Can a 30-year-old technological process be a game-changer today? If it’s 3D printing, then the answer is yes.
3D Printing technology, or additive manufacturing, has been around for over three decades, so why are you still reading about it? Because it’s about to change the way your industry does business, and as a newbie, it’s important for your breakout attempt at manufacturing to be relevant and progressive.
“Additive manufacturing is having an impact on every major industry and this could be the catalyst for the next industrial revolution,” says Nicholas Kitonyi, founder and CEO of Netland Media.
Some already believe that we are in the era of the fourth industrial revolution, which is inspired by the fusion of digital technologies with information technology, he says. But how disruptive is 3D printing about to become in manufacturing?
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“People need to be trained in additive manufacturing and how to use it,” stresses Marius Vermeulen additive manufacturing programme manager at Aerosud ITC. “Worldwide, lectures are now starting at universities. In South Africa, you are doing a great job. Universities here already teach this topic. They will produce lots of people who will be able to work in the additive manufacturing sector.”
Expect disruption in these four manufacturing areas in the near future:
1. Rapid prototyping and design duplication
Outdated and slower prototyping methods will leave slackers in the dust – a place you don’t want to find your business, while your peers bring products to market, for less money and in a fraction of the time.
“Rapid prototyping and the iteration of design are already well-established,” says Rapid 3D, official distributors for 3D Systems in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. “Testing out designs on your market, before you commit to setting up the production line, will completely change traditional product development cycles over the next few years.”
Knowing whether a product will work or not from the get-go saves time, money and encourages faster innovation – secret weapons in the ever-changing manufacturing industry.
2. Mass customisation and low volume production
Customisation brings with it premium pricing – ask Starbucks. 3D printing is making this option viable for many manufactured products.
“3D printing doesn’t require the initial cost of a mould, and specific tooling that is needed for traditional manufacturing techniques,” explains Eole Recrosio of Sculpteo, a French company specialised in 3D printing in the cloud. “To create a different product, one simply has to update their 3D file, and this can be done directly from a client’s information.”
The traditional process renders some products impractical or unprofitable.
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3. Product innovation
Pre-assembled designs that were previously seen as impractical or too costly to be realised are now possible with additive manufacturing. “Technologies like solidThinking’s INSPIRE and EVOLVE are used in design for additive manufacturing,” says Rapid 3D. This enables the quick and easy creation and investigation of structurally efficient concepts by design engineers.
“The nature of additive manufacturing allows us to work with doctors or companies anywhere in the world and, once we have International Organisation for Standardisation accreditation, we will be able to produce prostheses at a very competitive price, owing to the weakening rand,” says Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM) head Gerrie Booysen.
4. Virtual inventory
Holding inventory is expensive. Production capital, shrinkage, obsolescence, warehousing, insurance, tracking and distribution are costs you don’t want to be tasking on in the early stages of operation.
Printing spare parts on-demand is a key disruption to traditional supply chain business models and will continue to be for years to come. Leading aerospace manufacturer Boeing, has over 20 000 spare parts stored digitally in files that can be printed on demand, whenever and wherever they’re needed.
“Many experts believe that more businesses will replace inventory with digital files and that consumers will one day walk into a store, select a desired repair part, and have a 3D printer produce it in minutes,” reports Strategic Finance magazine.
Although additive manufacturing isn’t a new concept, adopting it early on means you’ll save time, money and space. As a new business, lean practices are better for cash-flow, but with 3D printing, you won’t be skimping on quality.
Additive manufacturing is rapidly growing in usefulness and capability globally, and South Africa is no exception. The technology is used for commercial manufacturing purposes, albeit still only in certain niches. South Africa is actively involved in both these aspects of the technology and that should include your new manufacturing business.