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3D Printing Might Bring Manufacturing Back to Canada

On July 1, Canada celebrated its 147th birthday. The relatively young country faces some of the same problems the US does, namely taking a major hit to manufacturing hubs as a result of globalization. While there is no magical remedy for that situation, applying new technology, including 3D printing, can help the industry get back on course.

All the articles on 3D printing and manufacturing in Canada I've seen refer to Nigel Southway, a productivity consultant and the co-author of Cycle Time Management . He serves as the chair of the Toronto chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, which launched Take Back Manufacturing two years ago. He also currently teaches a college course on supply chain management. I spoke with him at some length on the phone about his take on the problems and possible solutions for manufacturing in Canada.

Current state of manufacturing
Southway said that Ontario had been the manufacturing hub of Canada, serving a function rather like Chicago in the US. At the turn of the millennium, it had the “heart ripped out of it” due the offshore movement. As a result of the shift in manufacturing, the local industry became much less effective at manufacturing and failed to advance as far as innovation. And now that industry is also facing higher costs on Chinese imports.

Restoring manufacturing to Canada will take a serious shift in both thought and action. Practically speaking, Southway lists the “three legs of the stool” that have to come together to make it possible for manufacturing to make a comeback in Canada.

  • Government needs to make it a priority.
  • Training with hands-on experience needs to be incorporated into education. Formal apprentice systems like those found in Germany is something to be pursued.
  • The manufacturing industry must pursue cutting-edge technology, which includes computerization and 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em
I asked Southway if he regards 3D printing as a truly positive force or just something that has to be taken on because others already have. He conceded that 3D printing is a “me too technology.” He explained that it already has made great headway in Asia and in Europe, and Canada has to keep up technologically. “If you can't be in the lead, you need to be a very close second and apply it well.” He sees it as “another tool-kit item,” and if “the other guy has it,” you need to have it and master its application as soon as possible.

3D printing as game changer
Nevertheless, Southway does see great potential for manufacturing in 3D printing. One way that it makes a real difference in manufacturing is in rapid prototyping, a way to get working models done much more quickly and cost effectively than has been possible in the past. But the real transformative effect Southway sees is in its application to metal and what it can do for the tool-making industry. That, rather than the consumer space which deals primarily with the printers that work with plastic, is where he believes it will make the most difference.

Improving manufacturing with 3D printing
Instead of seeing 3D printing as the direct means of production for the consumer, Southway sees its real value in its applications for manufacturing engineers who will “rule the game.” The key is to improve on existing technology through the fine-tuned precision enabled by 3D printing. The technology allows machines designed to operate more efficiently in order to cut back on processing time and reduce cost in the final product.  

To illustrate his point, Southway offered the example of a 3D-printed machine made for a bottle cap manufacturer. The process of forming caps necessitates some cooling time for the molded plastic. The machine used was improved with 3D printing that incorporated honeycomb openings to allow for faster cooling. By improving the thermal management, the production time was cut in half and the cost reduced by 25 points. Reduced cooling times is just one example of the ways in which innovative applications of 3D printed design can improve productivity and profitability.

Still much untapped potential
The way Southway puts it, “3D printing is about putting particles of material only where you want it and building it up to suit the shape of the design.” That has tremendous potential for a whole range of products and industries, from prosthetics to architecture. But how do we get there, he asks. To achieve innovation, you have to build on science and technology, both of which form the core of manufacturing.

25 comments on “3D Printing Might Bring Manufacturing Back to Canada

  1. Ariella
    July 11, 2014

    @Rich What I believe he means by “me too” is an admission that the technology did not originate in Canada. Their innovation would have to come in the form of its application to manufacturing. 

    Finding more environmentally friendly materials is something that is in the works for 3D printing. Many items can be printed in nontoxic plastics. Plastic printing also opens up opportunities for more efficient recycling, as it cuts out the necessity of transportating containers see 3D Printing Plastic — Distributed Recyling and Distributing the Benefits.

  2. Ariella
    July 11, 2014

    @Rich It's just a bit more complex than that. PLA filament is considered green because it's completely biodegradable and compostable. Ialso produces no harmful fumes or noxious smells during printing.The plastic itself is completely nontoxic and considered safe for food products; however, the dyes some use on it are not. 

     

  3. Ariella
    July 11, 2014

    @Rich I know that standards vary across countries. That's true even for food. Did you know that a number of ingredients commonly used in American foods are banned in other countries?  See http://www.shape.com/blogs/shape-your-life/13-banned-foods-still-allowed-us. And these are things we eat not just what put the food into. Personally, though, I believe in individual choice and accountability.  I avoid buying things with artificial colors, but I don't demand that the government remove them from stores. 

  4. Ariella
    July 11, 2014

    @Rich that is a way to go, but I'd think it's much more consistent with the directions set by countries like Germany (which outlawed toxic plant sprays over a decade ago) than Canada. 

    After I wrote this, I did a quick search on German 3D printing and found that German Rep Rap announced a filament up to such standards this past May. From http://www.3ders.org/articles/20140502-german-reprap-offers-nylon-filament-pa6-for-3d-printing-robust-models.html:  “The Nylon-PA6 filaments are produced in Germany and contains no heavy metals or toxic substances, the company says. The base materials and colouring dye are selected according to FDA and European food regulations. ” Some of the comments there say that such filament was available before, just without the fanfare.

  5. _hm
    July 11, 2014

    It is very difficult why not people understand 3D printing is not for mass production. It is good for prototype and may be sometime for low volume. But no no for mass production.

    3D printing can be employed innovatively for some production. But it is not panacea for all. Cananda needs to do dispense with many more ills surrounding it.

  6. Ariella
    July 11, 2014

    @_hm You're absolutely right; 3D pringint is not at all efficient for mass production. Even though there are now techniques that allow multiple items to be printed at the same time on the same machine, you still don't have anything like the economies of scale to be found in other forms of production. Consequently, each unit price is on the high side. However, what Southway is proposing is not a shift to producing consumer items through 3D printing but using its abilities to improve the machines that are used in mass production. That is what can increase efficiency and contribute to the possibility of bringing manufacturing back — but only if the other component of what he calls the three-legged stool are also in place. So it's not a panacea. The title I had put on this piece was actually even more qualified than this one, as I presented it in the form of a question: “Can 3D printing bring manufacturing back to Canada?” 

  7. _hm
    July 11, 2014

    @Ariella: Another point is that person operating 3D printers are pretty expensive as compare to person operating conventional machinary. You need to consider that spped of 3D printer is 1/3 or less.

    Most improtant thing is that all this in text book literature. No one has yet convincingly proved that 3D printer concept does work against conventional production.

  8. Ariella
    July 11, 2014

    @_Hm I'm not sure what you mean by proving it works. It does work for particular purposes and is not intended as a replacement for mass productions.  3D printing has improved things ranging from jet engine parts  http://www.cnbc.com/id/101633194  that are lighter and more efficient than traditionally produced parts to prosthetics that cost just $50 to produce rather than $42K.   Granted, these are not items intended to be sold by the thousands. As far as I know no one has suggested that 3D printing is intended for that. What Southway suggests is that it can be useful in coming up with more efficient machines to be used in production of the final product.  

     

  9. SP
    July 12, 2014

    Not sure if 3D Printing can bring back manufacturing back butit definitely will open up lot of manufacturing possibilities locally looking at the demand. 3D printing is going to be very useful for time to market and shortening design milestones.

  10. Ariella
    July 13, 2014

    @Rich that is bound to happen, as they continue to drop in price. Just like 2D printers, they will be affordable enough for every computer user to have one. 

  11. Ariella
    July 13, 2014

    @SP yes, I would venture to say it is one of the most transformative innovations of this century. 

  12. Ariella
    July 13, 2014

    @SP yes, I would venture to say it is one of the most transformative innovations of this century. 

  13. Ariella
    July 13, 2014

    @SP yes, I would venture to say it is one of the most transformative innovations of this century. 

  14. Ariella
    July 13, 2014

    @Rich I don't wish to sound like I'm quibbling, but there is a differene between production for the masses and mass production. As I said, I'm certian, 3D printers will become much more common, and people will be able to print certain things they want on demand. But the more advanced form of 3D printing that will require machines that cost 6 figures will still be too expensive for most individuals and even businesses to acquire for themselves.  The printing process on them is also too slow for real mass production. But they can be instrumental in producing other machines designed for greater efficiency. In much the same way that GE uses 3D printing to produce engine parts that are lighter and more efficient, engineers can use it to produce machines that are more efficient, whether by enabling better heat management or through some other desired trait that cuts down on production time. 

  15. Daniel
    July 14, 2014

    “The relatively young country faces some of the same problems the US does, namely taking a major hit to manufacturing hubs as a result of globalization. While there is no magical remedy for that situation, applying new technology, including 3D printing, can help the industry get back on course”

    Ariella, why it's looking only for 3D printing, any particular reason? They can be looking for other types of industries too.

  16. SP
    July 14, 2014

    Any new technology when its introduced first its very expensive and then later on as the demand grows the cost comes down and availability of the technology gets very common. The same will happen with 3D. Just have to wait and have patience.

  17. Ariella
    July 14, 2014

    @Rich “Remember 200 MHz processors? ” Honestly, no. You have to conceive of the 3D printers rather like 2D printers. There are different types of printer. Some are affordable enough for home and small business use, but some print jobs require a much bigger printer that you're not going to attach to your desktop. That's why printers are still in business. Likewise, there will be a lot of inexpensive 3D printers used by individuals in the future. But the huge machines will still be out of reach of most and only purchased by businesses that focus on making prototypes or providing other specialty 3D printed items for individuals and businesses. 

  18. Ariella
    July 14, 2014

    @Jacob perhaps so. I did frame the question around 3D printing though as I saw articles that quoted Nigel Southway on the potential the technology held for manufacturing in Canada. 

  19. Ariella
    July 14, 2014

    @Rich quite so. Southway's view is not that it is a magic bullet but that it can be part of one of the legs of the stool he posits — and remember there are two additional ones. 

  20. Wale Bakare
    July 15, 2014

    I agree with you. As you know majority of consumers would want to have these gadgets all at once, just euphoria of having new techy things.

  21. Ariella
    July 15, 2014

    @Wale true, some people feel they just have to have the latest in tech toys. 

  22. Daniel
    July 16, 2014

    “”While there is no magical remedy for that situation, applying new technology, including 3D printing, can help the industry get back on course.””

    Rich, thanks for the clarification and it seems that its one among the new technology.

  23. Daniel
    July 16, 2014

    “I did frame the question around 3D printing though as I saw articles that quoted Nigel Southway on the potential the technology held for manufacturing in Canada. “

    Ariella, yes I think its good for manufacturing and production industry.

  24. Daniel
    July 16, 2014

    “Any new technology when its introduced first its very expensive and then later on as the demand grows the cost comes down and availability of the technology gets very common. The same will happen with 3D. Just have to wait and have patience.”

    SP, why its become expensive. it's a business trick; since there is no completion they used  to keep the premium at high level, so that they can maximize their profit at a lesser time. When real competition starts, they start declining prices with raining offers.

  25. Nemos
    August 27, 2014

    Very nice article @Ariella, 

    3D printing – printer of course is a revolutionary tool but I can see that only from the consuming prospective (at the moment). I doubt if 3D printing could bring manufacturing back as the reasons why companies are abroad will remain.

    (By the way I didn't know that exist 3D printers that can print other material apart from plastic)

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