Massive changes are coming to the manufacturing industry in the not-too-distant future thanks to additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. This technology has existed since the 1980s, but it is only in recent years that it has started to be used across more industries and even by consumers.
3D printing impacted manufacturing early in its history when it was mainly used as a way to generate physical prototypes of objects that had been created as images in a computer. It can now be used in the actual manufacturing process as a way to limit wasted resources and even speed up manufacturing jobs.
There are three reasons why 3D printing is so revolutionary. The first is that it allows for hyper-customization of products, the second is that it could have a profound impact on how manufacturers manage their inventory, and the third is it that gives the ability to manufacture to consumers.
Hyper-Customization. Imagine being able to construct virtually any color, shape, or any other feature of a product that your customers could possibly desire. With a 3D printer, you could have a product built exactly to each customer’s specifications in a remarkably short amount of time. This could improve customer service and lead to many other positive results for both consumers and producers.
Inventory Management. What if manufacturers didn’t have to keep as many finished products on hand and instead just had to have polymers, resins, alloys, and other raw materials to keep their 3D printers stocked? If manufacturing times were cut down significantly by new technology then this could be a real possibility. Warehouse sizes could shrink while providing even higher output and productivity levels.
Do-It-Yourself Manufacturing. Right now a small number of serious hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts have access to 3D printers to help them do work that they would otherwise have to turn to experts to accomplish. But how incredible would it be if 3D printers became as commonplace as regular printers? Consumers could conceivably construct their own replacement parts and many other items and completely avoid the trouble of going out and buying them.
It will be exciting to see how 3D printing changes the manufacturing industry in the coming years. Huge changes won’t come overnight, but there will likely be a lot of transitions as consumers become more self-sufficient and manufacturers shift the focus of their operations.
The image of the Form 1 3D printer is from Kickstarter.