Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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The idea behind 3D printing seems like it was something straight out of Star Trek. Even today movies and TV shows depict 3D printing like magic. However, the technology behind 3D printing is fast evolving from being relegated to only prototyping solutions: The advent of various industry 4.0 technologies like the blockchain has only served to increase its use cases in industrial applications.

Today, additive manufacturing or 3D printing can be used as a end to end solution for many businesses. Advanced additive manufacturing technology have led to decreased material costs and increased process productivity. Today, it could be a key driver for digital.

Let’s delve deeper into the key technological advancements and trends that are leading to an inflection point for the 3D printing industry in 2021 and beyond, based on insights.

Shift from rapid prototyping to production

Demand disruptions have become commonplace in the new normal. 3D printing could help brands test out the reception for their products before jumping into full-fledged production. 3D printing 100 parts for regional market testing by giving product design teams the flexibility to iterate on designs and features at no cost. 3D printing can also do away with retooling costs and it is the perfect fit for low to mid volume production. By mitigating the high fixed costs and tooling costs, 3D printing can enable market entry for start-ups or small to mid-sized firms. The use of rate production equipment like injection moulding can help 3D printed parts effortless transition to rate production: This would require the right level of material development, planning, and engineering.

Robust and resilient supply chains

In the recent past, 3D printing has been used to reduce lead times and productions sans tools. For instance, 3D printers on Maersk container ships enabled the quick replacement of faulty engineering components without the need for extensive reverse logistics. The ability of 3D printing to handle various resource-intensive tasks is a boon. It can pave the way for more robust and resilient supply chains in the future. It is a crucial component of digital supply chains of the future.  3D printing can work seamlessly with automation, IoT, and the blockchain. It is a glimpse into what the smart manufacturing facilities of tomorrow may look like.

According to Forbes, many 3D printing companies have raised significant investments despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Emphasis on automation and simulation software

The advent of increased 3D printing use cases for production shall put an increased emphasis on the stages of pre and post production. There are several time and capital-intensive operations in post-production that can be streamlined with 3D printing and automation.  The combination of simulation software and industrial automation can increase the efficiency of post-production systems sans human operator intervention. These technologies can help fulfil a critical need gap to ensure business continuity in an era of labour shortage. Simulation software eliminates time and cost overheads by predicting failure in advance.

Opportunities galore

The increased use of 3D printing shall lead to the better collaboration of hardware, software, and service providers. It will lead to the production of highly optimized products that are easy to integrate.  Today, 3D printing is already disrupting the $12 trillion manufacturing industry with other industry 4.0 technologies.  The increased proliferation of low-cost 3D printers with a high output shall democratize manufacturing by pushing it closer to the consumer. Worldwide, products will be cost-effectively customized to consumer needs.

The biggest impact that 3D printing is having today is with industries that manufacture parts of high value at low volumes, which could benefit from the customization that 3D printing allows for. Today, 3D printing is used extensive in automobile manufacturing and has also seen increased adoption in consumer electronics and even several other industries like beauty and healthcare to shoes. A far cry from the days when it was relegated to only rapid prototyping in the Aerospace and Defence industry. By 2029, the 3D printing market is expected to grow to $31 billion.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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