Over the past few years, the manufacturing industry has entered a new era—one defined by constant volatility. Companies are now looking to stay in control and work smarter as global insecurities such as the pandemic, economic downturns and the climate crisis continue to have a lasting impact on the supply chain while consumer demands drive purchasing behavior stronger than ever.
Many will be preparing for these economic headwinds by sticking to the status quo. However, forward-thinking manufacturers will know that this is not the time to put innovation in the backseat.
Traditional manufacturing methods have proven to be inefficient at combating recent supply chain challenges, specifically related to limitations in production capabilities and reduced productivity levels in times of significant labor shortages and inventory challenges.
This is where 3D printing shines. Additive manufacturing easily tackles these pain points thanks to a lack of reliance on manual labor, the means to expand design capabilities, and its ability to repeat assembly tasks seamlessly, all while improving product quality and centralizing the manufacturing process. In enabling on-site and on-demand manufacturing, companies are developing, iterating and manufacturing according to fluctuating demand rates. With more companies recognizing and experiencing the benefits of AM technology over traditional methods, both local and global supply chains are undergoing a massive transformation.
Demand Drives Adoption
Today’s consumers have a strong preference for personalized and sustainable products. In a low-loyalty consumer environment, with 75% of consumers switching brands during the pandemic, meeting evolving consumer needs is essential to business survival. However, it is nearly impossible to successfully and accurately forecast trends, build stock and anticipate sale spikes and demand surges with traditional manufacturing methods. But thanks to the flexible nature of 3D printing, manufacturers can enable quick, cost-effective short runs. This allows companies to respond to near-instant market changes, as well as to take production capabilities to the next level by enabling the creation of complex, high-quality, geometrically concise and—most importantly—sustainable parts.
3D printing first gained traction in the polymers space, unlocking design freedoms and mass part production at faster speeds and higher quality compared to traditional production methods. Having observed the value added to plastics manufacturing, 3D printing leaders turned to metals as the next step in transforming the industrial landscape.
The fabrication of metals has not experienced much change in recent years. While agility is a priority in this business, metals manufacturing is labor intensive, dependent on the skillset of the artisan, and requires a combination of massive machinery and multiple types of technology, all of which prevent efficient production.
Momentum with Metals
3D printing is optimal for this type of manufacturing environment, allowing manufacturers to relieve some of these pain points via a centralized, labor independent solution that provides cost-effective parts at high volume. Now, the technology has advanced from prototyping to production, allowing manufacturers to print 3D metals for mass commercial use, enabling even more breakthrough applications across the industrial, medical, consumer and automotive industries. While these benefits continue to gain recognition, demand is increasing for the technology, making the metals business the fastest-growing segment of the traditional 3D printing market.
As we look toward the future, adoption of 3D printing and AM technologies will increase and will continue to be applied in unique and innovative ways, creating value throughout the production line. Consumers will benefit from new solutions to old problems thanks to innovative designs that are highly complex yet personalized and sustainable, and typically impossible to manufacture via traditional methods. And for manufacturers, today’s investment in tomorrow’s future will build resilience into supply chains that will push their businesses ahead in 2023.