At the end of every year, some of the finest minds at Materialise come together to identify the 3D Printing Trends for the coming year. For 2023 those minds have identified 4 trends that hold the key to breaking down the barriers that are still associated with adopting the technology as part of an industrial manufacturing process.
1. Distributed manufacturing, done smart
Traditionally, manufacturing has always centered on a single location — usually a factory overseas.
This system worked well… until it didn’t.
In the last few years, we’ve seen the Corona crisis cripple factories and disrupt supply chains. We’ve seen the rise of geo-political tensions and increased environmental concerns. All of this has made manufacturing companies rethink this centralized production model.
With smart, digital technologies like 3D printing, manufacturers can make the shift to operating through multiple smaller-scale production sites that sit closer to their customers.
However, many of distributed manufacturing’s recent success stories have come from quick thinking in the face of a short-term need, like turning to existing, local 3D printing lines to produce emergency medical supplies during the Corona crisis. 3D printing was used reactively — a temporary replacement.
These solutions did, however, spark new conversations about the future of manufacturing. We can see that many companies are ready to adopt a more strategic approach. They will need to carefully consider which applications provide the most value in terms of supply chain efficiency or environmental sustainability.
This requires a change in mindset: a shift away from short-term solutions and towards using 3DP for the sustainable production of certified end-use parts.
CNH, an agricultural machinery company, is a good example of this. During the pandemic, CNH relied on 3D printing to produce a vital part that they couldn’t source due to Covid-related shipping restrictions. Now, the company is taking a more strategic look at how 3D printing can help manage its supply chains more cost-efficiently.
The potential is real. Even in the highly regulated and certified medical industry, hospitals are increasingly turning to 3D printing to produce medical models and personalized implants at the point of care, closer to the patient: the medical equivalent of a decentralized industrial production model.
In the end, smart Distributed Manufacturing, enabled by 3D printing and when done strategically, can be a successful strategy in its own right, rather than an ad hoc response to problems with global supply chains.
2. The cost of 3D printing must come down
The story of 3D printing is a story of added value. 3D printing enables design optimizations that provide performance, weight saving, time, and supply chain benefits that are impossible to achieve with traditional manufacturing methods.
In many cases, these benefits create cost advantages that impact the overall end-to-end manufacturing cost, from design to delivery. In fact, a recent survey shows that “the ability to reduce the overall manufacturing cost” is cited as the most important benefit of 3D printing.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the 3D printing process itself is cost-efficient. And Increasing material and energy prices have only driven up costs even more.
Several factors determine the cost of 3D printing parts, including the materials required, production time per part, and the type of printer. There are two important ways to reduce this:
The first is by working more efficiently to increase production capacity. Software plays a major role in this, by making it possible to optimize the build. We can also tune the printing process to make it more efficient and repeatable.
The second is using tools that improve quality. Quality comes at a cost. Looking at certified manufacturing in the medical or aeronautics industry, for example, we see that up to 70% of the production cost is in quality control.
3D printing continues to transform the factory floor as companies increasingly turn to the technology for large-scale production. But to accelerate this adoption, our industry will have to make extra efforts to reduce the cost of 3D printing.
3. From Process Automation to Workflow Automation
3D printing is a digital manufacturing technology, but it still requires a considerable amount of human intervention. And these skilled workers are increasingly hard to find. In fact, a recent survey by Materialise indicated that recruiting a workforce with the necessary expertise is the top challenge for companies that are already using or considering 3D printing.
At the same time, scaling up industrial 3D printing production into the thousands or millions requires a repeatable and consistent printing process.
These two challenges increase the need for automation.
In recent years, software has allowed us to automate various stages of the 3D printing process: from preparing and fixing files to generating support structures, optimizing the stacking of objects into a build, or even post-processing. But these are all individual processes.
In 3D printing, these different processes follow one another, coming together to create a complete digital manufacturing process. The promise of large-scale, industrial 3D printing requires us to automate each process but also the flow between them. This is what we call workflow automation.
We see the same requirement in the medical industry, where workflow automation is needed to address the dramatic increase of customized 3D-printed solutions.
The good news is that the ability to meet this need is growing, thanks to the creation of software platforms that allow manufacturers to define their own unique 3D printing process. Several companies, including Materialise, now offer these solutions to customers, allowing them to automate not just the individual 3D printing processes but the entire 3D printing workflow, from order intake to delivery and everything in between.
4. Data security and data integrity become top of mind
We already talked about the important trend of distributed manufacturing. Systemic shocks, including the Corona-crisis, supply chain issues, geo-political tensions, and growing sustainability concerns, have revealed vulnerabilities in the traditional, centralized production model. Smart, digital production technologies, like 3D printing, enable a shift towards multiple smaller-scale manufacturing sites closer to customers. A clear sign that the factory of the future will not be a single, central location.
This new digital, distributed production environment revolves around one key asset — data. And that data needs to be secured, preventing a rogue supplier from stealing a design and printing it on his own 3D printer. Of course, data security is important in any form of manufacturing, whether traditional or smart. In both cases, companies share their unique designs with contractors and suppliers, and they want to know that their design data remains secure.
But with 3D printing, there’s more to it than that. Manufacturers that plan to scale up the production of a 3D printed part into the thousands or millions need to optimize and fine-tune their unique printing process to make it efficient, reliable, and repeatable across multiple production sites. A smart production process ensures that all 3D-printed components have the same quality, no matter where they are produced. Creating such a process is complex and time-consuming, but it allows companies to leap ahead of the competition. That’s why, in addition to data security, data integrity is becoming top of mind for companies that embrace digital manufacturing.