This seems to answer a simple question, as everyone talks about how revolutionary 3D technology is and how to hear every day about new big companies that have integrated 3D printing into their business as part of the so-called Industry 4.0. But to what extent should a company include technology in its manufacturing process?
To fully understand the use of this technology, we wanted to use this article to demonstrate the key benefits of 3D printing in a simple way. After looking at all the positive aspects, we summarize them below to 4 main ideas.
Reduced production costs for small series
The first positive aspect of 3D printing is the economic aspect. By reducing material compared to subtractive technologies (such as CNC machining) and simplifying assembly, as well as shortening and reducing the cost of the entire supply chain process, the manufacturing costs of 3D printing are lower than other manufacturing methods lower. In addition, additive manufacturing (another name for 3D printing) implies constant unit cost of production since no tool is needed in the current 3D printing process compared to e.g. Injection molding. This in turn leads to almost no economies of scale. Although this last point can be associated with a disadvantage, it is also an advantage for the companies that produce custom parts or small batches, as long as the production does not exceed a certain number.
2. A fast manufacturing process
Although 3D printing of a part can take several hours, it is still a faster method of production when considering the production process as a whole. The duration of the product development process can be reduced from a few months to a few weeks.
By integrating 3D printing, a company can quickly design different versions of a prototype, rather than outsource performance and wait several days for a new iteration of the concept. Of course, this integration also involves costs, but it eventually allows flexibility to be achieved during the design phase of a product and ultimately accelerates the commercialization of the product. A trend that has spawned the concept of “rapid manufacturing” or “rapid prototyping”, one of the first names of which 3D printing was known in the 1990s.
3. With 3D printing for freedom of form
Another advantage of 3D printing is the ability to print parts of great geometric complexity. Forms that were unthinkable using traditional methods can now be easily realized with the 3D printer.
You do not have to adapt to the technical limitations of a production tool to design a 3D model. It has created a new field of possibilities for designers and other 3D-modellers, whose creativity is almost unlimited in terms of implementation. 3D printing offers a technological opportunity that has created entirely new 3D design methods.
Among these new techniques we find the topological optimization software, which, as the name implies, optimizes the design of a room based on its own mechanical constraints. The goal is to reduce excess material to reduce production and consumption costs. A criterion that is important for applications where weight is of utmost importance, such as aerospace or motorsport.
Other concepts, such as generative design based on biomimetic or the creation of lattice structures to reinforce parts, also contribute to the design revolution in product development.
The pioneers of this movement include companies such as Airbus with a bionic design aircraft concept, XtreeE with the construction of a nature-inspired concrete pavilion or the American studio Nervous system in the jewelry sector. Starting with the design on the computer, each piece of jewelry in the studio becomes unique, personalized and has an incredible design reminiscent of coral.
4. The beginning of on-demand production
One last noteworthy point concerns the digitization of industrial catalogs. In a few years, the products could be reduced to simple digital files with the goal of ending inventory management. A trend confirmed by the study of the Finnish MTB Research Center, which explains that at least 5% of spare parts could already be digitized and 3D printed.
Major corporations such as Boeing, Volvo and Volkswagen are taking such initiatives to give customers access to digital versions of their parts catalogs. Other initiatives, such as Boulanger, offer individuals to directly download a broken component of a product, as well as tackling the industry’s usual planned aging of products (also called obsolescence).