- February 14, 2018
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: business, manufacturing
I saw a funny tweet a couple years ago that said “I bought a 3D printer and printed out another 3D printer. Then I took the first one back.”
We’ve come a long way from the beginnings of 3D printing, when you could pretty much only print out small plastic objects with a $2,000 “home” desktop printer, or large plastic objects with a $1 million industrial printer. Fifteen years ago, companies like Depuy Orthopedics used industrial 3D printers to print out a prototype of a new part, taking several hours for the part to be completed. These days, you can get a small home 3D printer for a few hundred dollars, and large industrial printers can print plastic, carbon fiber, and even steel now.
The advances in 3D printing are so great that we’re not that far from using 3D printing as a manufacturing tool and not just prototyping and making small plastic parts.
And that can have an amazing impact on inventory and logistics. Manufacturers of small parts will no longer need to outsource their manufacturing to overseas factories. They’ll be able to store their components on servers and print them out as needed, either one at a time, or in the hundreds and thousands. This will cut down on the need for planning, estimating, and time in transit. Money spent on transportation can instead be used for paying for that giant printer in your factory.
Rather than trying to figure out how many thousands of parts you’ll need in six months, you can print them out the week you actually need them, which really changes the inventory storage and cash flow game. It can completely flip the supply chain on its head.
In fact, a 2016 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers report, 71.1% of companies are already using 3D printing in some fashion: 34.1% of companies use it for prototyping, and 42% will use it for mass manufacturing in the next three to five years.
But this could also become a game changer for warehouses. Rather than using up valuable storage space for a lot of small parts , they could turn some of that space into a light manufacturing concern. This can be especially useful if these companies do one-off shipping for things like automotive repair, model building, or anything else that only needs a few components at a time.
For example, there’s an Israeli company that has begun 3D printing printed circuit boards. With a DragonFly 2020 Pro 3D printer, an electronics warehouse could become an electronics manufacturer in no time.
And what about the companies working in the fashion world? Imagine being able to print out the latest fashions in a variety of sizes, styles, and a veritable rainbow of colors, all without a lot of change orders, overstocked items, and warehousing of dozens of sizes and colors.
Things are going to change because of 3D printing, and not just the speed at which we can make things. The machines will continue to get bigger, cheaper, and faster, and anyone can get a machine and start a small manufacturing business. Whether it’s someone working out of their garage, a manufacturer who wants to improve their productivity, or even a warehouse that wants to add new products to their line, 3D printing is bringing a major paradigm shift to the manufacturing world.
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Photo credit: David Hawgood (Geograph, Creative Commons 2.0)