Business benefits of 3D printing 04/26/16

Thanks to great leaps forward in technology and a drop in machinery costs, 3D printing has been placed within the reach of global masses. Experts say that anyone who embraces the trend will have the potential to change the way in which they do business. The countless benefits of 3D printing as well as rapid prototyping have been acknowledged for many years. The giant BAE Systems, for instance, have been using additive manufacturing to rapidly produce prototypes and components for more than 20 years. Whether for design validation or for faster launch of products, top management does not need reasons to be convinced of the benefits. Yet the vast majority of businesses still outsource 3D printing, the main claim being of a financial order. What many companies fail to realize is the fact that a cheap 3d printer provides operational and business benefits that translate into real bottom line advantages.

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Reduction of design delay time

A common myth with regards to outsourcing is that it will only take a couple of days to get the models back. The truth is, however, that it takes around a week. The vast majority of delays take place before the model order is placed due to the prohibitive cost of outsourced prototyping. A typical response would sound in the following way: “We should not order a model unit until we have advanced enough with the design that is worth spending the money.” But taking into consideration the internal design meetings, order placement, approval processes, not to mention the other procedures, the overall design delay can be 10 times the actual turnaround time when outsourcing. In most cases, this process has to be repeated two or three times before the product design is even finalized. Similarly, an in-house 3D printer enables a prototype model to be produced within just a few hours. This effectively saves weeks off the development cycles and accelerates the time to market of new products.

Creation of complex components

A 3D printer can make illogical shapes that you would not otherwise make by molding or machining. It is needless to say that the ability to create complicated shapes on a computer or even scan complex structures of nature and then print them represents a huge opportunity. For example, you have the possibility of making a hole that goes around a corner, which may sound trivial in the beginning. However, in order to make a hole you would have to take a block of metal and drill a hole in one direction, drill a hole in the other direction and meet that the two meet in the middle and that you have a fluid flow path. With additive manufacturing, you are that much closer towards designing the optimum strength-to-weight object.

Supply chain realignment

An exciting aspect of additive manufacturing is the idea of complete supply chain realignment. To be more precise, in a traditional business you have to start with market research, go through production development and last but not least launch your product. Someone pay for this and you have to deliver it. This process can be reconfigured because you can 3D print to order. There are many companies out there that are currently taking payment for the product even before it exists and so can you.