A digital world is here! Additive manufacturing, the purest form of digital manufacturing, together with machine learning and automation, is set to create the fourth industrial revolution. This may be the most disruptive change to the manufacturing world since the first industrial revolution in the 1700s.
Manufacturing focused on agility, efficiency and creativity.
Additive manufacturing perfectly follows the six D’s of tech disruption. It democratizes manufacturing so that small organisations, as well as large ones, can make a massive impact by leveraging digital manufacturing technologies. Economies of scale that keep the giants on top cease to matter and manufacturing focuses on agility, efficiency and creativity.
It also dematerializes and demonetizes the supply chain. Shipping, inventory and waste are constant drains on resources and materials. Lean manufacturing, just in time production near the end user, will change the landscape. That will be good news for the environment and it will ultimately affect manufacturing’s bottom line.
AM Affects Growing Number of Industries
One-off manufacturing tooling fixtures and custom fit prostheses are a fraction of the cost of a traditionally manufactured piece today. Last year Chanel, the cosmetics giant, launched its 3D printed mascara brush. Virtual inventories of millions of metal parts for the automotive industry are also possible with 3D printing, which saves vast amounts in redundant stock, storage and shipping.
Additive printing has also worked its way into the upper echelons of highly-regulated industries, such as the aerospace industry and medical implants, thanks to its rapid prototyping past and production ready present. There is even a 3D printer on the International Space Station.
Printers are Getting Faster and Better
The science of additive manufacturing has progressed significantly. Demands for faster printers and new techniques that allow for mass manufacturing are within reach. We're at the tipping point now.
The need for costly post-processing is also falling by the wayside due to new machine technologies and intelligent design. New concepts like soluble support structures, can simply be washed away once their duty is done. It is getting easier to mass manufacture with additive printing solutions all the time.
The introduction of HP Multi Jet Fusion, using inkjet technology that the manufacturer knew so well from the old-school printing world, was a driving force towards mass manufacturing with Additive Manufacturing.
It was designed from the outset to work hand-in-hand with advanced software solutions, such as Siemens’ NX Platform to provide end-to-end solutions for ease of use. It was also 10 times faster and 50% cheaper than the systems of the day,
That printer cut waste, energy consumption and print time, as well as spitting out production-ready parts. Now, HP faces an arms arms race with other manufacturers who promise high speeds and efficiency.
Further enhancements are expected as the competition for market share in the industrial 3D printing sector continues to intensify. In its latest 2019 report, Wohlers Associates tracked sales of 177 producers of industrial AM systems, (priced at $5,000 or more). This is nearly one third more than the 135 system manufacturers reported in 2018.
Deloitte reports that sales are on the rise, with $2.7 billion of 3D printers and associated services expected in 2019. Next year, the global financial analysts expect the number to top $3 billion.
Material Science: The Foundation of AM’s Future
Now additive production is becoming a reality as material science advances, and post-processing requirements diminish.
Until now, 3D printing has largely relied on modified versions of traditional alloys and plastics. With new materials designed specifically for the printers, we’re set to see an explosion in new alloys and polymers with variable thickness and a range of new qualities. 3D printing may yet hold the key to unlocking the true potential of Graphene, which would change the world as we know it.
The entrance of the large chemical giants to this industry domain guarantees the continuous development of new materials dedicated to additive manufacturing. They also challenge the industry’s business model, in which equipment providers earn high margins by selling both printers and materials in a closed system, and promote the use of open systems. Combined with the substantial increase in material production capacity, this will result in significantly lower material costs of these.
Even the 3D printing processes themselves could change beyond recognition, as layer by layer models face competition from more advanced forms of 3D printing that use light, heat and chemical processes to instantly cure a product.
This is a niche field that is about to become mainstream.
The world’s leading universities have teams dedicated to refining existing 3D printing techniques, as well as creating new ones. This is a niche field that is about to become mainstream. When that happens, more investment and technology will follow.
First Time Right With the Digital Twin
At the same time, end-to-end software packages, such as the Siemens NX additive manufacturing platform manage workflow, IP protection, and even post-print checks and validation. These software packages now allow designers to define complex bionic designs to optimize the performance of the parts, and unlock the true value of additive manufacturing and increase its value. These complexities come “for free” in additive manufacturing. Siemens NX also provides the ability to simulate, validate and alter the process, in a virtual environment, so production is successful and costly errors can be averted.
As industrial additive manufacturing goes beyond printing, Siemens’ solutions, such as NX, Teamcenter and Simatic IT can design a complete virtual production line, encompassing design and simulation with post-print quality control and workflow tools. The software is set to effectively take charge of the production process in the years ahead and automation could have just as profound an impact as additive manufacturing.
The addition of AI tools, driven by more data collected from the shop floor, will allow for automation and process refinements that will increase efficiency, drive down costs and make it accessible for even larger audiences and applications.
Growing 3D Printing Supplier Network
Combined with the growth of supplier ecosystem, it is now possible to affordably produce a much broader range of things, often in much higher volumes. More and more suppliers are developing expertise in additive manufacturing techniques, so newcomers are able to leverage these capabilities and build their competence together with these suppliers.
Also, printer and material makers provide training and certifications to their global suppliers, so it has become easier to locate suppliers with relevant certifications almost anywhere. These suppliers span from small shops with limited capacity to large contract manufacturers, who can serve as a one-stop shop for all production requirements.
The result is that additive manufacturing is moving from limited applications, such as prototyping, to a central role in manufacturing for a growing number of industries.
Start With the Factory of the Future Today
These are exciting times, but the world of additive manufacturing will inevitably go through a state of flux as mass adoption makes its own demands of this burgeoning market. So how do you survive this chaos? Education and effective integration of additive production, sooner rather than later, is the best answer.
It isn’t simply a binary choice to manufacture with traditional methods or a 3D printer. You can integrate 3D printing into your manufacturing processes right now. Simply order 3D prints online to overcome roadblocks in your current manufacturing system.
You can build your 3D printing expertise and reliance as you find the right people and the right systems to take your business through the Fourth Industrial Revolution and into an additive manufacturing production facility. You can only order 3D printing online for so long, after all.
The factory of the future largely, comprising mostly 3D printers, could be a clean, light and a completely efficient working symphony of lean manufacturing principles. It will be distributed globally, more efficient and accessible to smaller organizations. That’s a long way off, but there’s only one way to get there and that is to embrace the future and learn how 3D printing can help your business today, as well as tomorrow.Learn more on our website or contact us to discuss your business with our expert advisers.