Rapid advancements in 3D printing have led to UK manufacturers exploring the use of the technology in production, but what really are the possible benefits of 3D printing? In this article we look at customisation, cost, flexibility and speed to market.
Firstly, 3D printing is certainly not new – the technology first appeared more than 25 years ago – and is a topic that we have covered before in previous newsletters. Advancements in 3D printing continue to gain pace as manufacturers look for greater flexibility and cost-savings in production, and the technology is now being embraced in a range of manufacturing industries.
3D printing is set to revolutionise how we manufacture
It is therefore important that all UK manufacturers, whether they are a small independent firm or a large firm with an international focus, start to consider the benefits of 3D printing and the impact it may have, and is likely to have, on manufacturing over the next few years.
1. Customised, personalised manufacturing
With standard, mass-production it is often too complex and too expensive to customise and personalise production. 3D printing will make this process much quicker and more cost-effective, benefiting both the manufacturer and the customer. Customised manufacturing may be particularly beneficial in the healthcare (e.g. dental) and fashion (e.g. jewellery) industries, meeting demand for bespoke products.
2. Cost-effective production
3D printing undoubtedly offers manufacturers the potential to considerably streamline their manufacturing processes and, in turn, also brings huge financial opportunities. Through reduced machine set-up time and reduced tooling costs, 3D printing can significantly reduce the cost per unit, particularly for small production runs which do not gain cost advantages through scalability. This is becoming increasingly important; a recent report found that 51% of SME manufacturers are seeing customers request orders in smaller series. Manufacturers must strive to make small production runs more profitable.
A product that is likely to have a short production run, or where there is uncertain demand, is sometimes overlooked by manufacturers due to the high up-front tooling costs of production. 3D printing would dramatically change this.
3. Greater flexibility in production
3D printing will also give manufacturers greater flexibility in what materials they use during the production process.
4. Reduced speed to market
3D printing may also give manufacturers the opportunity to compress design cycles (e.g. through identifying design errors earlier) and reduce the time it takes to take a new product to market. 3D printing allows development ideas to progress faster than ever before. Rapid prototyping can see designers have a prototype in their hand in just hours, not days, weeks or months.
How will the benefits of 3D printing impact UK manufacturing?
Whilst there are clear benefits of 3D printing, the technology also brings challenges such as the potential cost of initial set-up and the possible problems that mass customisation may bring (too many options could overwhelm customers).
It will be interesting to see how many manufacturers adopt 3D printing approaches in the coming years and how that influences customer demand and buying patterns.
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