Disruptive manufacturing-The effects of 3D printing

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“The Industry outlook for 3D printing will potentially have a greater impact on the world over the next 20 years than all of the innovations from the industrial revolution combined.”

3d printing

Deloitte recently published definitive and informative twenty-page white paper on the history and development of 3D printing and how it will impact global manufacturing[1].  While most of us think of new technology, it really has been an important tool for some of the most sophisticated manufactured products. From the design and production of modern fighter jets and autos to the almost total displacement of the once highly paid and instrumental trained machinist. Indeed, machinists have and their $50 per hour wage has been replaced by a minimally trained $8 per hour materials feeder for pods of CNC machines. Moreover, the productivity and quality have been proven beyond a doubt to be superior to the old-fashioned ways. Again, CNC and CAD produced products may be one of the main reasons that globalization came about. Workers no longer needed extensive training and Intellectual property such as production drawings could be transported, uploaded and downloaded at the speed of DSL connections. That information then fed directly into computerized machining centers under the somewhat watchful eye of a marginally trained, low wage employee. So, why is there so much talk about 3D printing becoming a big disruptor?

The answer seems to be that the evolution, miniaturization and lower price of the technology is no longer just within the scope and budget of large corporations. Now, many small subcontractors can afford to enter outsourcing industry for a much wider and less sophisticated production range of products. But the elephant not mentioned is the impact on jobs and wages. On its face, the concept promises to be a form of democratization of more sophisticated areas of production and that will certainly be true but, as with all things business, it will require best business practices and relationships.

The white paper starts out with an excellent layman’s description of how 3D printing works:


how 3d printing works


Applications of 3D printing

“Because 3D printing allows users to develop and revise products rapidly before undertaking the costly processes associated with traditional manufacturing, the applications for the technology are vast.”

3d printing global opportunities


The website on 3D Printing stated, “The 3D printing industry is expected to change nearly every industry it touches, completely disrupting the traditional manufacturing process. As a result, the projected value of the industry is expected to explode in the near future.[2]


growth of 3d printingYet, traditional manufacturing still holds an important place in the business world. Once products are developed, it is challenging for 3D printers to match the economies of scale available through traditional manufacturing. The main advantage of 3D printing is that a low number of goods can be produced at an inexpensive cost, as compared to traditional manufacturing, which typically requires higher volumes to lower costs. However, as those economies of scale come into play, traditional manufacturing can be more beneficial for producing larger quantities of products.


Benefits and Challenges

The Deloitte paper goes on to explain that there are certain benefits and challenges to 3D printing that arise in relation to the uses and applications in comparison with traditional manufacturing. These include rapid prototyping, rapid manufacturing, mass customization and mass production, amongst others.

Deloitte Benefits & Challenges for 3D Printers Table

Benefits of 3D printing Challenges of 3D printing
Rapid Response *Single items can be produced inexpensively

Without incurring mold and tooling costs

*Entry level 3D printers produce goods that are often inferior to larger run traditional manufacturing
Reduced lead times *Ability to reduce the traditional production prep NA
.Rapid Innovation *New innovations can be created quickly since 3D printing is an iterative process NA
Rapid Manufacturing *Just-in-time inventory can be easily managed and created *Depending on the type of printer
Reduced Overhead *The overhead required to invest in inventory, and warehouse it, is reduced since items can be printed as needed. Traditional manufacturing methods typically require larger volumes of inventory to produce and warehouse. NA
Mass customization *Products can be customized for a single purpose or created in small and economical production runs. *Limited materials can be printed with 3D printers for commercial production
Mass production *Unique products that can’t be made using traditional manufacturing methods can be produced for mass production *While traditional manufacturing can produce large products, 3D printers cannot
Use of unique materials *Materials such as human tissue can be printed with 3D printers. NA
Economies of Scale NA *The cost of producing large volumes of some products can be high using 3D printers.


The Deloitte paper concludes with a rather expansive statement: “The Industry outlook for 3D printing will potentially have a greater impact on the world over the next 20 years than all of the innovations from the industrial revolution combined.”

To fully capitalize on these opportunities, governments may choose to make 3D printing widely accessible within free public service locations, such as schools and libraries. For its part, the private sector will want to continue working towards embracing this technology as a platform to create new businesses, business models, products and services that push society forward by spurring the creation of new sources of global wealth.



[1] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ca/Documents/insights-and-issues/ca-en-insights-issues-disruptive-manufacturing.pdf

[2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevefaktor/2012/10/15/how-hp-could-reinvent-3d-printing-and-itself/


Additional Reading

Operational Excellence for the Future of Manufacturing

7 Ways 3D Printing Makes Manufacturers More Competitive


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