The 3D printing market is sizzling. According to Forbes, growth rates are projected anywhere from 18% to 34% annually by 2020. The allure of 3D printing (also called additive manufacturing) is that machines are able to work directly from a computer model, thus designers can devise completely new concepts on the fly without regard for existing manufacturing limitations.
Giants such as GE and UPS are pouring investment into the sector; buying or investing in additive manufacturing firms to augment their businesses and gain early footing in this evolving technology. UPS is hoping 3D printing centers can shorten its supply chain and cut into its $58 billion-per-year transportation business, giving it a leg up in an emerging market for local production and delivery. Take a look at the video below that was released as part of UPS' 3D Printing Week this month, to see how one electronics designer is using it:
While the titans of industry are taking the lead, 3D printing has also made a significant impact in the mid-market sector as well. Curt G. Joa, located in Sheboygan Falls, WI, is a manufacturer of machinery for disposable paper products. It is also a long-time member of the group buying organization, Prime Advantage. Tony Smith, purchasing manager for Curt Joa, has been singing the praises of additive manufacturing and how it's given his company a competitive edge ever since it first started using the technology through a third party service three years ago. “You email a file, the prototype is built from a drawing, and then it's shipped to you,” said Smith. “There might be a little light manufacturing if needed and then it's ready to use.”
The benefits have been vast as this newfound tool has allowed Curt Joa to create custom replacement parts on demand, increase machine production speed and minimize assembly time. It has also decreased Curt Joa's lead time as well as lowered warehousing costs courtesy of not having to store racks of replacement parts. Additive manufacturing keeps the door open to using any of the traditional materials you're accustomed to in the modeling phase, be it plastic, nylon, sand, or metal.
The technology initially gained its popularity in manufacturing in the prototype stage. Castings and tooling can be quite expensive when creating various models before production. However, the fluidity and adaptability of 3D printing relieves these costs for manufacturers. So the beauty is, the more complex the part, the more you save. Additive manufacturing had been most commonly used to make certain niche items, such as medical implants, as well as to produce plastic prototypes for engineers and designers. But them times, they are a changing. More and more manufacturers are extending their 3D printing use into production so that its benefits can be realized throughout the entire product development process.
So if your company has not yet embraced additive manufacturing, your potential might just be falling short of reaching the next dimension.