We at Stratasys heartily concur with Jeremiah Owyang’s conclusions about 3D printing’s impact on business models. 3D printing is beginning to level the playing field for manufacturers of all sizes. Businesses in many industries can compete more effectively, relying less on outsourcing through producing product prototypes in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional manufacturing methods and by creating small volumes of parts without tooling.
We are seeing that companies are not just complementing conventional machining with additive manufacturing, they are redesigning their products and product lines for enhanced efficiency and profitability. Earlier this year, Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO, discussed 3D printing in a forum hosted by The Atlantic. Immelt explained how 3D printed factored into the production of a fuel nozzle on a LEAP jet engine, commenting, “[additive manufacturing] is worth my time, and a lot of investment.” And Mark Little, GE's chief technology officer, recently noted, "It's really fundamentally changing the way we think about the company."
At Stratasys we recognize three types of manufacturing that are benefiting from 3D printing and additive manufacturing. The first is Personal Manufacturing, in which people produce their own products, either using home 3D printers or through service bureaus, for personal use. Examples could be phone cases, camera tripods, even certain prosthetic devices.
The second type is Augmented Manufacturing, which describes the creation of tools, molds, jigs and fixtures, organizers, templates and shields used during the manufacturing process. Though less discussed and less recognized by the general public, producing 3D printed production aids are low-cost, high-reward items that can make a big difference in profitability, as evidenced by the growing number of companies that are adopting Augmented Manufacturing. For example, imagine having to produce a one-off robotic arm to grasp a new curved part on an assembly line. You can either 3D print it in a few hours and tweak the design as necessary, then 3D print another… or spend weeks (and much more money) to have one tooled and hope it is right.
In the third category, Alternative Manufacturing, 3D printing is used to produce final end use parts. . Alternative Manufacturing in particular relates to Owyang’s “Changes to Business Models” and we believe it will have a significant impact on inventory storage requirements, Just-In-Time (JIT) delivery, existing product design and future product innovation.
Some are calling 3D printing and additive manufacturing the next industrial revolution. It may be too early to tell, but one thing seems certain – in terms of manufacturing, we are just seeing the tip of the 3D printed iceberg.