The turn of the 21st century has brought with it social media and the Age of Technology. People around the world now expect new products as quickly as they can receive a text or Tweet. Pressure has grown to constantly produce innovative and exciting items.
Some companies use social media platforms to spread awareness of their products and to gain brand loyalty. However, as competition to create the next big sellers increases, companies are constantly looking for new ways to gain an advantage.
As 3D printing has grown, so too has the use of 3D printing in the production process. Companies now use 3D printing in product development and for numerous applications. According to a 2017 article from Forbes, 90% of companies consider 3D printing a competitive advantage in their strategy.
How exactly can companies use 3D printers to gain an edge?
Accelerating Product Development
Proof of concept and prototyping are two of the most popular ways that 3D printing is used to help accelerate product development.
Because 3D printers can print almost anything, companies use them as a cost effective way to build different versions of their products without needing an expensive manufacturing process. With a 3D printed proof of concept, a company can more quickly appeal to investors and gain approval for a new product. Companies can also more efficiently build prototypes to test, keeping the cost down if multiple iterations of a design are necessary.
A 2014 article from SpaceX explains how the company manufactured an engine chamber for the SuperDraco rocket using 3D printing. According to Elon Musk, “Through 3D printing, robust and high-performing engine parts can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods.”
Companies might still choose to use a more traditional manufacturing process to create large quantities of their final product, but they will save money and time by using 3D printing in the proof of concept and prototyping stages.
Offering Customized Products
In the traditional manufacturing process, companies spend a large amount of money on developing the machines necessary to build their product. This makes customizations either impossible for the company or incredibly expensive for the consumer.
3D printers, with their ability to print nearly anything, become invaluable investments for companies that want to offer customizations to their customers. Only a change in design or materials is necessary for the 3D printer to create a customized product.
Some companies actually offer 3D printing as their product; a customer can design nearly anything he or she wants, and the company will print it for them, often providing a range of materials from plastic filament to precious metals.
Increasing Production Flexibility
3D printers offer the flexibility of making small changes to the look of products without needing to redesign expensive manufacturing equipment. They also allow for the creation of incredibly intricate products for which traditional manufacturing equipment would be difficult, if not financially infeasible, to purchase or build.
A pump impeller is an excellent example of a product for which 3D printing offers an advantage to companies. Pump impellers have intricate curved parts with precise specifications, and their design requires skilled engineers.
Unfortunately, they are incredibly difficult to actually produce.
Instead of also using skilled engineers to design machines with the capability to build parts of the impellers and assemble them, companies can use 3D printers to produce the pump impellers. In this case, the flexibility of 3D printers and their use of additive manufacturing make them highly desirable in a competitive market.
Because of efficiency and flexibility of incorporating 3D printing into their production, companies are seeing a definite return on their investment in 3D printing technology.
Anyone seeking a competitive advantage for his company should consider using 3D printing in the proof of concept and prototype stages of manufacturing. 3D printing will also offer an advantage in the production of any customizable or highly intricate product.
It makes sense for companies to invest in 3D printers, as the technology will ultimately result in more efficient and cost-effective production.
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