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Posted on : Thursday 18th June 2020 09:16 AM

Additive Manufacturing and Its Impact on a $12 Trillion Industry

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Additive manufacturing is dramatically changing just how products are made. What is additive manufacturing? It’s a process that creates a physical object from a digital design using 3D printing technology. Additive manufacturing adds material, layer upon layer, to develop a finished product—from a pair of sports shoes to NASA rocket parts.


It is prepared to play a huge role in the future of manufacturing.


Additive manufacturing goes a large step beyond traditional manufacturing methods. It is efficient at using more complex designs and delivering drastically better results via a simplified fabrication process. This gives manufacturers increased flexibility and much faster production times, which leads to real innovation. Manufacturers can make products that, until now, remained on the drawing board.


The promise of additive manufacturing has become excellent. But the promise has been held back by the inability to scale. The question has always been: how do you use this technology to cost-effectively create not only for one or two products but hundreds of thousands?


Executives in industrial manufacturing have long accepted that 3D printing could save them billions of dollars in production, but they have faced extensive barriers to using 3D printing for large-scale production. Nevertheless now, with additive manufacturing, it’s getting to be possible to produce parts with a strength, speed, and scale similar to injection-molded parts—and do it more cheaply and efficiently.


Here are four game-changing advantages manufacturers will find when they implement additive manufacturing.


Operate on a level playing field. Additive manufacturing reduces the barrier to entry and brings down production costs compared to traditional manufacturing methods. Take, for instance, CNC [Computer Numerical Control] machining, which is a process used in the manufacturing sector that depends on computers to control machine tools. There is at present a global shortage of programmers who can operate CNC machines. And, even when they can be found, skilled CNC programmers are very expensive to hire, commanding annual salaries well over $100,000. This made it difficult for small manufacturers to compete with larger rivals.


By contrast, additive manufacturing does not require the same level of skill. Due to the fact that additive machines are less complex, they’re relatively painless to program and therefore inexpensive to operate in the long run. What’s more, with additive manufacturing you can program a part in California and have it sent to a factory across the country or on the other side of the world. That’s something very hard to do with other manufacturing methods, which typically require fixtures, tools, and materials to be on site.


But switching parts on a 3D printer can be performed in a matter of minutes. This flexibility means you don’t need to waste time and money manufacturing spares. With traditional manufacturing, such as CNC or injection-molding jobs, you normally run an extra 10 percent just in case some parts break or come out faulty. With additive manufacturing, you have the flexibility to simply print any extra parts at the exact time you need them.


Quickly respond to demand spikes. Whether you make consumer electronics or basketball shoes, you will never know when a huge spike in demand will unexpectedly hit. And with traditional manufacturing methods, it’s very hard to quickly capitalize on that opportunity. For starters, most manufacturing supply chains are long and convoluted, which makes it hard to turn on a dime and instantly ramp up production.


But additive manufacturing, with its lower tooling requirements, places less strain on the supply chain. So, the time it takes to go from design to customer delivery is much shorter, meaning you can get your products to market faster and in the hands of customers more easily.


Deliver greater customization. Consumers increasingly wish to have custom-made products that catch their personal lifestyles. The elimination of tooling that comes with additive manufacturing also means that companies can produce more customized parts faster and at lower costs. Additive manufacturing makes it possible to cater more accurately to the demands of modern consumers, thanks to its support for low-volume production batches of customized parts and products.


Take, for example, a special-edition automobile or custom features within that car. It’s now possible to cost-effectively print parts in low volumes for these niche vehicles and give customers exactly what they want.


The next generation of additive manufacturing innovation is poised for fast adoption as companies strive to cut lead times and respond more rapidly to customer needs. It is only a point of time before the world of manufacturing and the products it creates is completely transformed for the better.


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