3D Printing

The Future of 3D Printing in the Manufacturing Sector

The manufacturing industry has recently undergone large-scale change with the integration of 3D printing.

Additive technology has revolutionised the way the sector operates, expanding the realm of possibilities for product creation.

More companies are employing the use of this modern and highly adaptable technology, but there are still some components which are holding it back from competing with CNC operations.

SmarTech Analysis reported that the 3D printing revenue reached $10.6 billion in 2021. SmarTech and Lux Research groups both reported that by the year 2030, the industry will be worth over $50 billion. Prototypes, moulds and tooling are expected to be the greatest areas of growth.

This article explores the future of 3D printing and its transformative potential in reshaping manufacturing processes.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing is an additive technology, used to manufacture parts by stacking and fusing layers of material. This process is done via a digital file and requires minimal start-up costs. How these products are made starkly differs from subtractive or formative manufacturing techniques.

Initially used for small-scale prototypes in the 1980s, the possibilities of 3D printing have now expanded within the manufacturing industry.

3D tech is known to be low-cost, fast, adaptable, and capable of creating geometrically complex parts. The list of materials that machines can process is rapidly increasing, expanding the realm of opportunity for manufacturers.

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Understanding the Financial Implications: Cost-Benefit and ROI of 3D Printing in Manufacturing

The integration of 3D printing technology into the manufacturing sector marks a significant shift from traditional methods. To comprehend its financial viability, a thorough analysis of the cost-benefit and return on investment (ROI) is essential.

Initial Investment vs. Long-term Savings: The upfront cost of 3D printing technology, including the purchase of printers and materials, can be substantial. However, this initial investment is often offset by long-term savings. 3D printing reduces material waste, lowers transportation costs due to onsite production, and minimizes the need for storage space. These factors contribute to a significant reduction in overall production costs over time.

Comparison with Traditional Manufacturing: Traditional manufacturing methods often involve complex supply chains, higher material waste, and considerable costs for tooling and molds. In contrast, 3D printing streamlines production by allowing direct fabrication from digital models, eliminating the need for expensive molds and reducing lead times. This direct approach not only cuts down material costs but also accelerates the time-to-market for products.

ROI Analysis: The ROI of 3D printing is measured not only in direct financial terms but also through its impact on innovation and product development. Companies using 3D printing can rapidly prototype, test, and refine products, which significantly enhances innovation cycles. This ability to quickly adapt to market changes and customer demands can lead to increased market share and revenue, contributing positively to ROI.

The adoption of 3D printing in manufacturing presents a promising financial proposition. While the initial investment may be higher compared to traditional methods, the long-term benefits in terms of cost savings, efficiency, and innovation significantly contribute to a positive ROI. As the technology evolves, its growing affordability and versatility are poised to further enhance its attractiveness to manufacturers.

As we look towards the future of 3D printing, understanding its financial implications reveals just the beginning. The next frontier involves navigating the evolving regulatory landscape, which will play a critical role in its widespread adoption and innovation.

Regulatory Landscape and Standardization

The rapid advancement of 3D printing technology has outpaced the development of corresponding regulations and standards. This gap presents a challenge for manufacturers who must navigate a landscape of uncertain regulatory requirements. Standardization in the 3D printing industry is crucial for ensuring the quality, safety, and interoperability of printed products. As the technology becomes more prevalent, we can expect more robust and comprehensive regulations to emerge, shaping the future trajectory of 3D printing in manufacturing.

Workforce Skills and Training

Adapting to 3D printing technology necessitates a skilled workforce proficient in digital design, material science, and machine operation. Recognizing this need, various educational and training programs have emerged. For instance, technical colleges now offer specialized courses in 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Companies are also investing in in-house training programs to upskill their workforce. The transition to 3D printing not only creates new job opportunities but also requires a shift in the skill set of the manufacturing workforce, emphasizing the importance of continuous learning and adaptability.

Manufacturing Possibilities in 2022

Despite Australia taking longer to adopt 3D technology than its Western counterparts, it has been relatively efficient at integrating 3D printing into the manufacturing sector.

In 2021, 65 percent of advanced manufacturing and mobility companies surveyed by EY used additive manufacturing.

The technology, present in many Australian classrooms, can be used to make parts for cars that are out of production or even build houses. The Danish company COBOD, which aims to print buildings with ethical materials, has recently expanded its reach to Australia and is looking to change the conventional ways buildings are constructed.

A 3D Printing Trend Report published by Hubs, an online manufacturing platform,  reported the 3D printing market will reach $44.5 billion, up 24 per cent in the next four years. These figures highlight the optimistic future of 3D printing, setting a dynamic course for its evolution in the manufacturing sector.

The report found that 68 per cent of engineers were using 3D printing more, setting the precedent for expansion. The speed, price and complexity of the products were considered to be the largest drawcards.

Other materials such as metal are also expected to become normalised in the process. The diversity of materials that 3D printers can utilise make it more adaptable than other forms of manufacturing. Innovation in this space has slowed due to the pandemic but is expected to be an area of substantial growth.

“New materials and material composites, lower pricing and mature post-processing options will also make it more viable to integrate 3D printing into production cycles,” said Filemon Schöffer, co-founder and CCO of Hubs.

The pandemic also highlighted the adaptability of the technology, proving that 3D printing can adjust supply chains quickly and effectively. A good example of this is 3D printers being used to create PPE masks during the pandemic. This process required minimal labour and was able to fill a gap conventional methods of production were not able to.

3D printing can create products that have previously been impossible. Creating complex geometric shapes quickly is what separates this methodology and will propel its use and expand its reach within the manufacturing industry.

“Advanced material composites, combined with the ability to produce highly complex geometries, will open up new manufacturing possibilities that have been impossible to unlock with traditional technologies,” Filemon Schöffer said.

The Hubs report suggests that while 3D printing will be used for prototypes, its use will extend beyond to contribute further to the manufacturing industry.

They estimate that “high-performance 3D printing materials development and qualification, such as refractory metals, ceramics, high-temperature polymers and composites,” will be a growth area.

The industry of printing is expected to increase in popularity due to minimal waste and its sustainability factors, which will drive consumer consumption.

Consumers are increasingly looking to create personalised products, be it a prosthetic, an engine part or a personalised cabinet. 3D printing is creating a space where such items are becoming more accessible and will continue to have a great impact on the sector.

3D printing and CNC machines

CNC manufacturing and 3D printing have a large crossover. This begs the question of what method is better and if 3D printing will take over traditional production processes.

The first thing of note is that 3D printing and CNC operations employ opposite techniques. One is additive, and the other is a subtractive method. Because of this, each process is useful for different things.

CNC production is mostly used for metal products and is cost-effective when over 100 products are made. CNC production is known to have high accuracy rates and is the better option for simple geometric products. It does however have limitations in regards to complex geometric shapes, and it is more labour-intensive and time-consuming than 3D printing. It is important to note that CNC production is not redundant due to new technology and will continue to be used for many years to come.

3D printing is an expansion of the traditional means of production. It is beneficial due to the low start-up and labour costs, fast turnaround time and ability to create complex and light geometric products. One of its advantages is the ability to quickly adapt to changes with a turnover time as short as 24 hours.

While commonly making products from plastic, 3D printing can also print metals such as aluminium and stainless steel, and use bio-materials such as sand. The list of viable materials for 3D printing is increasing and is a great way to produce less than 100 products. Once it exceeds this number, it is best to employ CNC services for accuracy and production costs.

While 3D printing is evolving, there is currently a post-production process of sanding or shaping which requires labour. Despite this, the minimal material waste is a large draw card of this production style.

3D printing has room to grow in terms of accuracy and consistency in products and requires regulation of industry standards.

Both methodologies are useful in different scenarios. However, it can be expected that as 3D technology advances, it will account for a higher percentage of manufacturing production.

Conclusion

The future of 3D printing in the manufacturing sector is bright, marked by groundbreaking innovations, expanding material possibilities, and the potential to revolutionize traditional manufacturing paradigms. As we advance, the industry must address regulatory, skill development, and standardization challenges to fully realize the technology’s transformative potential.

Currently, CNC operations are the most accurate way to create products. Specialised CNC operators, Welders, Boilermakers and other manufacturing trades can be hired from Dayjob Recruitment.

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