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By Sylvia Fowler

The next Revolution in Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is a technology which is impacting the manufacturing sector more than any other technology. (Kylau, Goerlich, & Mitchell, 2015) Industry professionals who create, innovate and produce products in companies ranging from start-ups to global trade groups are using 3D Printing. (Columbus, 2017) Here are a few examples of the revolutionary transformations taking place as a result of 3D printing.

Accelerating product design cycles

3D printers require little setup time and no initial tooling. Hence, manufacturers can move from initial design to prototype to finished product faster than ever.

Lowering barriers to entry

By using the same machine to produce many different parts and eliminating tooling costs, new competitors can enter markets rapidly and with lower investment costs.

Moving manufacturing and assembly closer to customers

Instead of building and shipping parts to assembly plants, some suppliers are installing 3D printers on the shop floor and shipping only raw materials for just-in-time construction at the point of assembly. Therefore, the shipment cost of raw materials is much less. At the same time, fewer finished products require shipping, which reduces costs as well. The on-premise process of 3D printing is substantially decreasing the environmental and logistical costs of transporting goods.

Increasing production speed and quality

Since 3D printing includes the capability of building a part in additive layers, designers can now create complex structures that are impossible to make with traditional subtractive processes. Parts previously made separately and welded or bolted together are now made as a single part and in one operation. With 3D, the parts made are more durable, weigh less, and consolidate numerous parts into a single part, which considerably cuts down on assembly time.

Redefining manufacturing skills

In conventional manufacturing, the most valuable employees on the shop floor are tool and die makers. These individuals possess the intelligence of engineers and the skillful hands of an artisan, and they handcraft the machines and molds for production. With 3D printing, however, there is no need for the hands-on skill. While it seems that automation is replacing some jobs on the manufacturing floor, workers with more skills to run and program machines are in demand. Since 3D printing accelerates the pre-production process, this technology needs operators with technological expertise. 3D printing, along with education, is attracting younger and newer talent to the manufacturing industry.

Decreasing inventory and warehouse needs

The ability to produce low-volume parts on demand and in small quantities decreases the requirements for storage and inventory. Casts, molds and other tooling gear needs no listing in inventory stock, so manufacturers can eliminate expensive minimum restocking charges. Replacing warehoused parts with virtual inventories and design files will free up significant amounts of working capital sitting in warehouses.

3D printing will become a $16 billion industry by 2018, and adoption of this technology will be mainstream between 2019-2024. 3D printing will continue to reduce entry barriers, change resource use, enable new competition, speed time to market and decrease waste. 3D printing will continue to save manufacturers much money, especially in the areas of prototyping, customization and low-volume production.

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