Has the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of 3D printing?

As a person in the additive manufacturing media, well-meaning texts from friends and family members containing 3D printing news stories are always a good indication of the technology’s footing in the mainstream conversation. So, as the coronavirus pandemic hit and 3D printers were poised as the solution to pressing supply chain challenges for crucial items on the frontline, you can imagine, my inbox was pretty full. 

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Hospitals brought 3D printers in-house to support production of protective medical equipment, universities loaned their additive capabilities to print parts for local healthcare providers, and 3D printing equipment manufacturers became service providers overnight.

How that awareness and momentum might extend to the coming months and indeed years, particularly as this health crisis remains, is up for debate, and yesterday a trio of panellists across various industry segments came together to discuss what that could look like.

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Technology innovations transforming the supply chain

Every sector is in the midst of a digital transformation journey adopting the latest technologies worldwide.

Sectors such as supply chain, manufacturing, logistics and transportation are currently facing an extreme shift in the adoption of new technologies. Not only has the current pandemic been a catalyst in adoption, technology is currently in the midst of its biggest transformation yet. New technology innovations have enabled us to automate processes, manage the supply chain and track data using blockchain. 

3D Printing

3D printing has been around for over 20 years but has only recently been adopted by large-scale markets. This technology allows for companies to create specific devices or products in-house using specialised materials while minimising cost. This means independence for the supply chain and manufacturing industries as well as reducing delivery times and eliminating the need to store a large number of products in a warehouse. 

3D printing is a globally used language meaning that digital files can be sent from anywhere and then printed locally, allowing for on-demand files to be printed immediately reducing inventory build-up and costs. This streamlined approach only brings positives to the manufacturing and supply chain sectors, and boasts huge benefits such as dealing with less risk, having more control and adding agility to their product lifecycle.

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3D printing can be a real source for optimism

A Stanford computer scientist, Roy Amara, noted in the 1960s that “we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”. When it comes to 3D printing, it could certainly be argued that he was right.

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A promise that could be fulfilled

3D printing, sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing, is a technology that is evolving fast and has not yet reached its full potential when it comes to decentralising production. It could very well offer the answer to the addiction the world has to the supply chain – simply by removing it from the equation. Now, 3D printing is only used for toy models and prototyping and it has not reached far beyond that.

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GM is pushing 3D printing from the lab to the factory

The upcoming Additive Industrialization Center will develop know-how for direct production of 3D-printed parts.

3D printing has been crucial to the launch of General Motors’ halo Corvette sport sports car and was crucial in the company’s ability to pivot to producing medical equipment in response to the COVID-19 virus, but the company has even bigger plans for the technology coming later this year.

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GM printed 17,000 face shields with its additive manufacturing equipment and printed the tooling for the injection molds that have now created 250,000 more shields. Before that, the team building the first mid-engine Corvette prototype relied on 75 percent printed parts to assemble the car for testing. This faster process sped the car’s development and pointed the way for future new car development projects.

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3D printing to thrive during COVID-19 and beyond

It is a common belief that you can make almost anything you want when it comes to 3D printing.

Bits and pieces ranging from a splint for a broken arm, a bulldozer part that has split or cracked, to a malfunctioning part on a navy ship patrolling high seas in the Middle East, can be remade with relative ease compared to a traditional replacement.

The 3D printing process, also known as additive manufacturing, is currently being adopted to solve some of Australia’s supply shortages during COVID-19.

Industry organisations such as the Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC), CSIRO and industrial-scale additive manufacturing company Titomic are at the forefront of promoting 3D printing technologies and advocating for its growth.

IMCRC CEO David Chuter said 3D printing, particularly for plastics, has never been more relevant.

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Stratasys: “Manufacturers now see 3D printing as a staple part of the industrial production floor”

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of our publisher, the industry sourcing company DirectIndustry, we are celebrating 20 years of industrial innovations by giving the floor to the players that brought these innovations to life. In this interview, we focus on 3D printing. Eric Bredin, VP Marketing, Stratasys, EMEA, gives his insights into 20 years of innovations in additive manufacturing and 3D printing technology.

DirectIndustry magazine: 30 years ago, you went into an industrial sector, 3D printing, that was unoccupied: why and how?

Eric Bredin

Erin Bredin: Thirty years ago, Stratasys saw the potential 3D printing could bring to the manufacturing world and has since developed its Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology to fit production needs of various industries. FDM offered manufacturers a tool that was lacking until then – the ability to produce small series or customized parts in-house quickly and cost-effectively. Today, many manufacturers see 3D printing – or additive manufacturing – as a staple part of the industrial production floor, replacing certain conventional manufacturing technologies or offering a complementary tool for production. 

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Is 3D printing a magic bullet for supply chain at the time of COVID-19 pandemic?

The novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19 pandemic has clearly illustrated the vulnerability of conventional global supply chains. Over the past decade, natural disasters, including the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in 2010, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the Thailand floods in 2011, the category five hurricane Maria in 2017, and the category four hurricane Harvey in 2017, resulted in major disruptions to company supply chains. Although the global supply chain and the majority of companies recovered from these natural calamities, the overemphasis of firms on cost-cutting measures by concentrating on production overseas through manufacturing clusters has caused many of the current problems, such as vast shortcomings in the supply of much-needed medical and non-medical products required to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, there is unavailability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers, scarcity of ventilators for patients, inadequacy of sanitiser liquid, and shortage of test kits for the public.

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Bans issued by countries on the export of PPEs and products critical to fighting the pandemic have caused the global supply chains to collapse. These instances illustrate the fragility of the global supply chains amid a large disruption.

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New SmarTech Report: AM service bureaus to support reshoring and supply chain recovery

SmarTech Analysis has published a new report on the state of metal 3D printing service bureaus dubbed “The Market for Metal Additive Manufacturing Services: 2020-2029.” The report illustrates the current picture of the metal additive manufacturing (AM) service market and projects the future revenue opportunities that will emerge by relying on a robust set of quantitative data. Though the report provides a comprehensive look at the industry, it is being framed as particularly valuable given the major disruptions that the COVID-19 outbreak has had on the global supply chain.

Nearly all products are made in a centralized manner, with individual components made in one set of factories and shipped to others to be assembled. As nations have shut down their borders in order to limit the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, starting with China, the globalized economy was quickly disrupted. 94 percent Fortune 1000 companies were reported as seeing their supply chains impacted in response to the pandemic, just as it was reaching its peak impact in China.

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3D Printing enters ‘game-changing’ era as supply shortages spark creative solutions

Digital manufacturing is filling holes during the pandemic with traditional production lags

As social distancing measures were ramping up in late March, freelance creative director Tito Melega and German product designer Amine Arezki had a flash of inspiration during an impromptu lunchtime Zoom gathering hosted by a mutual friend.

Arezki was discussing the use of 3D printing to help fill some of the shortages in medical masks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Melega happened to sit on the advisory board of a Knoxville, Tenn.-based 3D printing startup called Ascend Manufacturing.

Soon, the pair of previous strangers were holding daily Zoom discussions along with Ascend CEO and founder Justin Nussbaum. They fleshed out an idea for an open-source 3D-printable mask design, culminating in a project called A Mask For All.

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Has 3D printing’s hour finally come?

“Our digital manufacturing partners are working non-stop in the battle against this unprecedented virus.”

Additive manufacturing, or 3D Printing has long been trumpeted as the lodestar of a “Fourth Revolution”. In reality, uptake has been limited, it remains somewhat niche, and hype has not met market expectations. Yet as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the 3D printing industry and hobbyists alike are stepping up to help ease the supply chain disruptions by creating and printing urgently needed components.

The major issue for healthcare workers at the moment is the overwhelming numbers of people that are in urgent need of oxygenation; requiring ventilators so they can breathe long enough for their immune system to fight off the worst of the virus.

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