Artist's interpretation of 3D printing

A Second Look at 3D Printing

April 19, 2022
Supply chain woes may have provided the impetus for people to finally take additive manufacturing seriously.

It’s probably too cliché to suggest additive manufacturing is entering a new dimension. The promise of 3D printing as a prototyping tool was quickly realized by manufacturing managers. The evolution to production-level quality products and materials turned 3D printing into a powerful took for precise geometries and customized production solutions.

The solutions were more easily identified, but the industry still was slower to embrace the potential of 3D printing as more than a design tool. Then came a global supply chain crisis followed by a global pandemic, and design and production teams began to rethink the way 3D printing could be useful.

As Machine Design recently reported, 3D printing was a valuable tool to deal with a badly mangled supply chain. By using in-house machines, parts could be produced in hours instead of waiting days for the supply chain to untangle itself. For commodity parts, they could be produced in bulk and on site, saving in transportation costs while being able to control inventory management.

At a presentation at the recent MD&M West Show in Anaheim on advanced manufacturing, 3D industry experts said the combination of supply chain value, a more sustainable solution from creation to procurement, and greater control over the production process should make 3D printing an essential element for manufacturers looking to expand their competitive advantage.

The barrier that remains is the confidence that 3D printing can scale all of these operational and production obstacles. Matt Sand of 3DEO, who also authors the article referenced above, told the audience at MD&M West that some manufacturers still are cautious about 3D’s potential value.

“The challenge is convincing people [3D printing] is real,” said Sand. “There have been so many hype cycles to the industry. The important messages is that it is really happening this time. We’re on the precipice of a big breakthrough.”

Even so, Tim Heller of Stratasys reminded the attendees that there are limits to what manufacturers should expect from 3D printing. Additive doesn’t change the supply chain,” Heller noted. “It’s a piece of the puzzle.“

But 3D printing can be a fit for those manufacturers who can identify ways to take full advantage of its scale and precision. It requires a second look at 3D printing to understand how technological advancements can be of value to the single-site shop or the global manufacturer.

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