3D Printing (Additive Printing)

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing (also known as additive manufacturing) is the process of creating new objects from a digital design file quickly using a connected 3D Printer. 3D Printing differs from traditional manufacturing in the following ways:

Traditional Manufacturing

  • Subtractive Manufacturing - products are forged by taking raw materials and removing the excess material until the final product is produced
  • Manual/Automatic Production - products are made either manually or with a combination of manual and automatic systems. 
  • Moderate Lead Times - production in traditional manufacturing systems have numerous parts from raw materials, machinery and labor that need to be present in order for production to take place. If any one of the these elements is missing or delayed the production of the final product is also delayed. 
  • Production Time - it can vary depending on how complex the product is and how many different tasks are required to create it.
  • Waste - as a result of the subtractive nature of traditional manufacturing more waste is produced from excess materials that cannot always be reused or recycled.

3D Printing

  • Additive Manufacturing - products are made by adding liquefied materials to create new products.
  • Automatic Production - the entire process is automated by the computer and physical 3D printer.
  • Shot Lead Times - after a design is finished it can be immediately produced assuming the desired material is available on hand.
  • Production Time - very fast as everything is handled right there on the 3D printer.
  • Waste - minimal to zero was as nothing is added to the production that is not required by the design.

There is also the added benefit of lower labor cost, lower product lost, lower machinery and overall lower manufacturing costs when using 3D printing methods. This makes the technology exceptionally attractive for smaller to larger manufactures as the technology progresses and can handle larger designs or faster scale. This can greatly impact the manufacturing sectors around the world as companies will be able to entirely restructure their supply chains.

How 3D Printing Will Change Supply Chains and Manufacturing

At the moment of this writing, most companies outsource the majority of their manufacturing to specialized companies with skilled labor and then have the finished or semi-finished products shipped to their location. However, as the 3D technology and printers continue to improve most companies (assuming they want to stay in business) will bring manufacturing in house. As more companies design, prototype and manufacture in-house many traditional manufactures will need to pivot their business models from B2B to B2C remain viable in many cases. 3D technologies will greatly shrink and streamline the supply chain of many companies and also shrink the corresponding supporting industries like trucking, sea freight, rail and component suppliers.  

3D Printing would likely encourage the further trend towards customized products for consumers replacing (to a degree) the mass production of one item to be sold. B2C Companies would benefit from this by having less capital tied up in inventory and be better positioned to respond the rapidly changing consumer demands in their local or global market. Customers would benefit greatly from customized products which meet their exact needs or wants without the high cost of customization they would experience in today's market place.

How 3D Printing is Helping Astronautsin Space

3D Printing is changing the supply chain of space where resupply missions for everyday and critical needs can take days if not weeks. With the development of high quality space grade 3D printing, astronauts on the space station can quickly produce critical spare parts, medical tools and other products to meet the every day demands of space.

As 3D Printing in space becomes more advanced astronauts and private companies alike will be able to push the boundaries of space exploration. Where prior missions would have required that every essential tool and spare part be sent with the crew for any mission either to the space station, the moon and now mars; crews can produce tools and products only when they need them. They will have more room to store other important supplies while at the same time enjoying greater flexibility of the 3D printing technology.