In a few weeks, Ultimaker North America President John Kawola and Jabil Additive Director of Product Management Tim DeRosett co-present “Jabil Realizing Production Agility Through 'Desktop" 3D Printing" at the fourth-annual Smart Industry Conference. Today they preview their presentation and share their thoughts on the endless possibilities afforded by this evolving technology. Take a look…
Smart Industry: Define “desktop” 3D printing? What advantages does this present? What challenges persist?
John: Desktop 3D printing allows for freedom to design and experiment. The smaller
desktop models versus large centralized printers offer a unique advantage in that they allow for specialized groups of engineers to print prototypes, for example, near where their design process is occurring. With the accessibility to create a quicker and cheaper prototype using 3D printing, manufacturers can quickly identify design flaws and re-design, shortening time-to-market. The same efficiencies apply to creating jigs, fixtures, and tools—all of which are vital in the production process.
Smart Industry: What fields/industries are the early adopters of this technology?
John: 3D printers have been around for a long time, but the pace of improvement and change with desktop printers has been much faster than historical technical growth in this industry. Just in the past few years, we started seeing sub-$5,000 machines displacing systems that cost tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Early-adopting industries include manufacturing, automotive, healthcare and aerospace, but use cases span across nearly every industry.
Smart Industry: Who could most benefit from desktop 3D printing?
John: Any company looking to bring efficiency to the design or manufacturing process can benefit from desktop 3D printing.
Tim: As a large manufacturer, we see benefits in 3D printing of tooling, fixtures and
manufacturing aids. By printing the tooling/fixtures in-house, instead of sending out to a machine shop, we’re able to dramatically reduce the time-to-production and accelerate the New Product Introduction (NPI) process.
Smart Industry: How does this technology boost collaboration within the manufacturing process?
John: Take the automotive industry as an example. The nature of auto manufacturing is that hundreds of engineers design one car and they are all very specialized—a few engineers might work solely on designing a wiper blade. Traditionally, manufacturers had a centralized 3D printing room away from where the actual production or design process is happening. Access was limited. Now, instead of 250 engineers using a centralized location, there might be 25 desktop printers. People are printing more, collaborating more effectively and turning around designs faster.
Tim: As 3D printing is adopted and engineers begin to realize the benefits, they quickly begin thinking of new ways to use the technology. Additionally, engineers begin exploring how they can apply design for additive manufacturing and share their learnings with others within the same plant and across geographies.
Smart Industry: What is the most unusual item you’ve seen printed?
John: Hard to say if there is one item that is the most unusual. What is interesting is the large range of different types of parts that are printed. The standard application is product-design parts in a variety of industries like automotive, aerospace, medical and consumer goods. But, in addition to these, 3D printers are being used to print models to visualize the complex interaction of molecules for drug research. Teachers are printing tactile models with braille text to teach the blind. Lawyers are using models in product-liability litigation. In the end, a 3D printer is a communication tool, and the cost and accessibility that desktop 3D printers bring expand the possibilities for use and applications.
John: Past business models determined that centralized manufacturing was most cost-efficient for enterprises, locating one large factory or warehouse where labor and land was cheapest, with all assets under one roof. But distributed manufacturing is starting to become a reality—and 3D printers are set to shine in this environment. The ability for 3D printing to create customized replacement parts, coupled with a smaller supply chain network, can lead to large savings for the manufacturer—and get products into the hands of customers faster.
Tim: Time-to-market is definitely a major benefit of 3DP. We’re also realizing the benefits of a true distributed additive-manufacturing network. For example, we can design a product in Silicon Valley, validate the design and production process, then lock the file and configuration and send to a production facility in Mexico, Europe or Asia. This is done with validated systems, giving customers confidence that the parts produced in the appropriate geography will all meet their requirements. This results in huge time savings, not to mention cost savings. Think of holding inventory in digital files and raw materials instead of WIP inventory that might not be in a convenient location.