3D printing is changing just about everything in the manufacturing world. It’s shrinking supply chains, reducing time-to-market, and increasing the ability to adapt to customer needs. Rapid prototypes, tools, jigs and fixtures, end-use parts, and anything else you can design to speed up or enhance your internal workflow can be 3D printed.
3D Printing Applications For Manufacturing Companies
As mentioned in our Beginner’s Guide To 3D Printing blog post, the possibilities and applications of 3D printing are nearly endless. 3D printing can be used in virtually every industry and seems to be having the most significant impact for manufacturing companies where they often design, simulate, visualize, and manage their products digitally to help establish a competitive advantage.
Additive manufacturing helps at every stage of the product development process by streamlining workflows and collaboration between multidisciplinary teams, which means that 3D printing technology is quickly changing the way manufacturers think about everything from the part design to quality control.
In some cases, companies are turning toward production 3D printing to produce parts at lower cost than conventional manufacturing methods could offer. Where traditional manufacturing can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks to produce a finished product, production 3D printing can speed the process up to just 1-2 weeks depending on the volume and geometry of parts produced. Manufacturers realize the benefits when they can avoid expensive tooling costs and reduce their time to market. One of the largest industrial manufacturing companies in Europe, Siemens, recently invested to expand their industrial 3D printing capabilities. With this expansion, they will be able to support their internal operations and service the automotive and aerospace industry along with other industries that have found the value of additive manufacturing.
How 3D Printing Affects The Entire Value Chain
3D printing creates an opportunity to examine and reinforce the entire value chain. With the widespread use and acceptance of additive manufacturing, many firms are taking advantage of today’s available technologies to enhance their product development and manufacturing processes. By incorporating more value-added activities within a system, facilities can work toward lowering their cost structure and increasing the perceived value of their products through differentiation.
A value chain includes everything from determining customer needs, designing and producing a product that meets those needs, distributing the product, and all the marketing and after-sale services as well. Some firms today are even turning toward 3D printing for mass production of end-use parts.
Primary Value Chain Activities
1. Research and Development
3D printing can play a critical role within the R&D phase of product and process development. During the product design phase, 3D printing’s primary application is rapid prototyping. It is not uncommon to prototype multiple design iterations at once to speed up the process of design selection.
Other than design improvements, 3D printing is also used to assist with process improvements that lead to lowering production costs. Unique tools, such as jigs and fixtures are designed and printed to assist with manufacturing and assembling products in an effective and efficient manner.
Although additive manufacturing has not taken the place of traditional manufacturing methods yet, there are situations when it makes sense to use 3D printing for production parts. Fused-Deposition Modeling (FDM) is often the preferred technology for end-use parts.
3D printing check gauges/fixtures for quality control purposes has also provided manufacturing facilities an easy and repeatable method to ensure their quality.
3. Marketing and Sales
Marketing departments have found great use of 3D printing technologies to show off products that are not yet available due to traditional manufacturing lead times. Often, marketing departments want to show off their upcoming products and gain interest at Trade Shows that are scheduled prior to product launch dates. Getting the product concept in a customer’s hands early can lead to valuable feedback and positive relationships with future clients.
Manufacturers have a lot of things to consider when making business decisions to help add value across their organization all the way down to each individual customer’s experience. This is how 3D printing can revolutionize the entire value-chain and how it is currently being applied in thousands of manufacturing facilities throughout the world.