How disruptive technologies will revolutionise our economy: 3D printing

Whether it will merely enhance the manufacturing process or revolutionise it entirely no one in business should ignore 3D printing.  There has been some headlines recently in the news which are interesting but the disruptive nature of 3D printing is yet to make it’s significant impact on global supply chains as it is not yet extensively used in manufacturing.

Here are the 6 main ways 3D printing will change the future of business

Mass customisation

3D printing will allow businesses to involve clients in the design of products.  It will essentially bring about customer co-creation, blurring the lines between design, manufacturing, and distribution.

Customer involvement in the design process will create “prosumers”: individuals who are actively involved in the creation of a product while at the same being its main consumers.

Resource efficiency

3D printing uses resources more efficiently compared to modern manufacturing methods as it produces less waste during manufacturing compared with conventional machines. Because governments will look to reduce waste to prevent environmental crises, 3D printing could be an essential investment for businesses to stay compliant with increasing strict environmental regulations.

3D printing will take production closer to the market as customisation can take place after products are sold, which reduces the need for transport and the carbon footprint of the supply chain.

Decentralisation of manufacturing

Because 3D printing requires less space so it will allow manufacturing to be decentralised and can be closer to consumers. This means for businesses and consumers less shipping and delivery costs.

Because manufacturing can be localised 3D printing will lead to the rise of distributed manufacturing whereby a network of geographically dispersed sites are involved in production whilst being coordinated with IT systems. There will be a demand for people with the logistics and IT skills necessary to manage these networks.

Complexity reduction

3D printing is a powerful way to reduce complexity in the supply chain by replacing previously assembled parts with a single component; the manufacturing process can be simplified significantly. For businesses and consumers this means savings because internal cost and time through reduced supply chain complexity.

Instead of multiple steps required during the production phase 3D printing allows the same result with just one single task making the flow of the material easier to see and control.

Rationalisation of Inventory and Logistics

3D printing allows the movement of physical goods across the globe to be substituted by sending electronic files to printers.

Physical storage of products could be replaced by digital inventory where 3D model files of products would be used instead. This means actually storing and transporting products would be less essential to supply chains.

3D printing will have an impact on inventory in manufacturing. Instead of semi-finished parts and components raw materials which are cheaper and safer can be used. As raw materials require lesser skilled workers than the handling of semi-finished goods and final products, businesses would have lower labour costs.

Product Design and Prototypes

3D printing technology is so adaptable, meaning it can produce a vast range of different products cheaper, easier, and quicker than modern methods.

As product designers are no longer tied to concept of “design for manufacturing” products can be redesigned almost entirely with a focus on aspects such as enhanced functionality and material savings without compromising any of the attributes.

Legal and Security Concerns

Legal concerns have been and will continue to be an important topic of discussion in relation to 3D printing. Some researchers argue that 3D printing allows the printing of harmful objects such as guns to be made easier for criminals.

As the current legislation does not consider the copying of physical objects, it is unprepared to define clear rules for the use of 3D printers. For example, who is held responsible for the printing of knives and guns? And who is to blame if 3D printed product breaks: the designer, the printing machine manufacturer, the material supplier, or the company printing and selling the product?

As this technology, open source modelling software and sharing platforms for 3D files become more commonplace the risk for legal misuse of 3D Printers increases, posing a challenge for law makers.

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