One of struggle, one of anguish, one of a technology that may have previously failed to live up to such lofty promise, perhaps now finding its role in the manufacturing landscape.
Though there were plenty of businesses in the 3D printing industry that had significant issues to encounter – GE in its AM-related goodwill impairment charges or Stratasys and 3D Systems in their workforce reductions – the technology itself comes out of 2020 with an enhanced reputation.
It was responsible for millions of parts produced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to alleviate slightly the pressure that medical professionals and procurement personnel were under, while allowing manufacturers to pivot from what they typically produced to what, in that moment, we needed them to.
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 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.
This week, California-based metal 3D printing company Velo3D revealed it had raised an additional $12m in funding, taking its total to $150m. The money will be used to develop a new approach to metal 3D printing, reducing the need to re-design parts for additive manufacturing.
Velo3D believes this approach can help engineers realize the potential that lies in metal 3D printing.
The 3D printing industry is not short of potential. In 2019, GlobalData estimated the market would be worth $32bn by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16% between 2018 and 2025.
Since the beginning of this year, the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the fragility of global supply chains that provide life-saving equipment including ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical facilities around the world.
3D printing has long emphasized its power to decentralize global manufacturing by manufacturing locally, but the material with which it operates is still beholden to the global supply chain.
The pro-decentralization argument in favor of additive manufacturing systems generally goes something like this: global supply chains require huge amounts of transportation. Since additive manufacturing systems 3D print products on site without expensive tooling from a 3D design file, the cost of shipping and production is reduced. CAD files are easy to reverse engineer and easy to redesign, greatly reducing time-to-market as well. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, this argument was not airtight by any means. The cost of producing certain non-essential and essential goods (including medical supplies) was still cheaper by traditional methods like injection molding and transcontinental shipping.
It’s no doubt that 3D printing and additive manufacturing are some of the most exciting technologies in the past decade. But as rife with much as the hobbyist and household applications are already, the most significant potential of additive manufacturing lies behind the outstanding scenes in each supply chain.
Experts assert that rapid prototyping can potentially remake the entire manufacturing and product handling process. This is because the approach can help bring about professionally-designed products quicker than ever. Keep in mind that rapid prototyping is more than just 3D printing. The concept can be helpful even when working with different materials to suit manufacturers and eventually transform the work environment for your employees.
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.
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.
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.
Amey, a UK-based infrastructural support service provider, has revealed internal plans for applying 3D printing to train-track renewal. With concept drawings provided by Swiss robotic arm manufacturer ABB, the company demonstrates the construction of an independent repair carriage, capable of moving along railway lines and removing and replacing faults. Though still in its early stages, the company estimates that over 60% of UK railway lines could be refurbished using such a system, returning material economy and efficiency savings equating to over £40 million a year.
“At Amey, we’re exploring the use of 3D printing in the rail sector, beginning with track renewals,” Simon Grundy, Innovation Manager, Consulting & Rail at Amey, writes.
“3D PRINTING WILL FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE HOW WE CONDUCT TRACK RENEWALS.”
Thanks to their higher lifetime value, retailers are putting more effort into fulfilling the delivery needs of omnichannel consumers. Despite representing only 7% of total customers, omnichannel customers account for 27% of all sales; so they order more and more often than others.
Plus, digital media use before and while consumers shop already influences most in-store sales, and its influence is increasing, projected to influence 58% of all in-store sales by 2022. By embracing an omnichannel model, merchants can improve their chances of remaining profitable while improving the service they provide customers buying in-store or online.
When buying online, omnichannel consumers increasingly demand smaller, more frequent shipments to their doorsteps, workplaces and/or a convenient pickup location, and many will take their business elsewhere if merchants don’t oblige. According to Forbes coverage of a Capgemini study, for example, almost half of consumers say they would stop buying from a retailer that could not provide a satisfactory delivery. On the other hand, 55% said two-hour deliveries would increase their brand loyalty.
Additive manufacturing is no longer just for prototypes. Its increasing popularity and technical capabilities have pushed it into position to change the way manufacturers manage their spare parts inventory.
No matter how technologies change, or what new innovations break into the mainstream, the basic goals of manufacturing remain the same: Reduce unplanned downtime, reduce costs, eliminate unnecessary waste, etc. How fortunate it is that 3D printing (a.k.a. additive manufacturing) is one of those cool, innovative technologies that is finding itself a very nice spot in the realm of day-to-day cost and time savings. Not only can it be used to produce interesting and previously impossible designs, it has also become a useful way to change spare parts management.
When a system goes down, making the repairs needed to get it back up and running can be time-consuming. Even more so if the part that needs replacing is no longer readily available. With the right program in place, additive manufacturing can build that part on demand—whether through reverse engineering, digital files from the component supplier, or perhaps through the supplier itself.