Connect Magazine Technology Fall 2016 - Page 18

The number of commercial 3D printers has grown by 6,500% in less than five years. Whether it’s an experiment with new materials or a whole new product line, 3D printing has become an integral part of the development process due to its low-cost flexibility in the prototyping phase.  MASS MANUFACTURING Historically, assembly line manufacturing has been geographically aligned, with massive factories churning out millions of identical products, then shipping them closer to the point of purchase. With 3D printing, manufacturing occurs much closer to the end user, if not by the end user himself. For instance, cloud-based additive manufacturing allows service providers and customers to design parts, upload them to a website, and have those parts shipped directly. Because mass production would no longer need to be outsourced, parts are printed closer to the end user, reducing or eliminating storage and logistics costs, as well as shipping delays. Today, 3D printing is beginning to take its place among the likes of digital technology and the Internet of Things as a major disruptor to the current business model. 18 | SNB.COM // CONNECT TECHNOLOGY FALL 2016  MASS CUSTOMIZATION Traditional manufacturing necessitates the fabrication of molds, casts, and other production tools used to mass produce identical products. 3D printing allows for the creation of low quantities of such tools at a fraction of the cost, making customer personalization a fast, cost-effective option for businesses. With today’s manufacturers holding $1.7 trillion in inventory at any given time, a shift from mass production to lower volume runs would eliminate the need for large warehouses. Items like automotive parts, dental implants, hearing aids, and jewelry can all be customized through additive manufacturing, while providing businesses the opportunity to increase revenue, productivity, and brand loyalty.  MAINSTREAM PRINTING Personal 3D printers are still rare and materials limited, but forecasts estimate that over one million personal printers will be sold by 2020. In the future, print-on-demand services will disrupt traditional order-shipment sales, as customers purchase and download designs, and print the product at home. Business leaders who are at least dabbling in 3D technology have a strong advantage over those who wait for years to determine how it will affect their bottom lines. While manufacturers have been first to change strategy, any prudent company should begin assessing the implications for its business now.