Manufacturing has historically always been about more. More orders, more runs, more efficiencies, etc. It’s simply not cost effective to produce small amounts of products. However, that can be very limiting to a company. In many cases, they order more than they need or they aren’t able to test new ideas or tweak the current design.
3D printing possibilities are starting to change that. Stratasys, a 3D printer and materials manufacturer, has released a whitepaper, Revolutionizing Manufacturing With 3D Printing: An Introduction, highlighting how 3D printing is greatly impacting the manufacturing world. 3D printers and the types of printing materials continue to expand, opening new possibilities in manufacturing. We will examine the three big takeaways from the document.
Prototyping is a necessary step in manufacturing for finding design flaws, however it can put a project in limbo for weeks waiting for it to be produced. Need a tweak? That’s another few weeks. Or do you need to commit to a production order now to hit the shelves by a certain date? No time for a prototype. Hope there aren’t any design errors…
3D printing allows manufacturers to produce prototypes faster and cheaper. Making tweaks and adjusting the design can be done during the day and then printed overnight. This also opens up the ability to test more ideas and get faster feedback.
Making the investment in a 3D printer (or two) tends to pay for itself quickly. The freedom to create and print designs as needed offers a freedom that can’t be had by outsourcing. Being able to have your model or prototype in-hand the next day (sometimes even the same day) can greatly decrease your production time and that means getting your product to customers faster.
So far, we’ve focused on the whitepaper’s product-related uses of 3D printing, but don’t forget that you can also build your own tools to help you produce new products. Is there a tool you need that you don’t have or you misplaced? Creating manufacturing tools in small volumes can save 40% to 90% when you 3D print them, according to the whitepaper. And, you’ll have them much faster.
There are additional benefits to 3D-printed plastic tools over metal. You can improve the design for better efficiency and ergonomics. They are lighter than metal and can even improve handling. They can also help with your inventory and warehousing. Since they’re plastic, you can toss them when you’re done with the job so you don’t have to store or keep track of them.
3D printers and printing materials will continue to expand and grow in sophistication. Those who are able to take advantage early and grow with the progress will have huge advantages over those that lag behind.