There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed major challenges to the manufacturing and transportation sectors around the world. Governments and businesses were, and are still, constantly engaged in a war of constrained supply chains and critical shortages of essential goods. During this time, 3D printing has established itself as more than a technology for prototyping but is one that has redeployed its capabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating its competitive advantage to support more resilient and sustainable value chains. Today, as we recover from the pandemic, value chains are placed at the forefront of many businesses’ priorities – business leaders have seen what additive manufacturing and 3D printing can bring to the table following the pandemic. Look at the healthcare sector and you will see that there has been very successful mass production of healthcare essentials, including personal protective equipment, ventilator parts, masks and gloves, all within a short span of time.
As the new year begins, Mitchell Beness, 3D Print Manager, Asia Pacific Japan, HP, highlights the biggest 3D printing trends that are set to positively impact the world and its global supply chain.
- Additive Manufacturing (AM) 2.0 will play a crucial role in strengthening global value chains and unlocking business growth
AM 2.0 is the culmination of taking 3D printing into mass production with digital factories leveraging industry 4.0 technologies. 3D printing can reduce the need for fixed costs like tooling and enables designers to print medium to low-volume production parts on-demand, resulting in a reduction in lead time and safeguarding against external disruptions. However, as manufacturers begin to implement 4IR technologies like automation, Internet of Things, data analytics etc., into their 3D printing processes, the potential of AM 2.0 becomes even more significant. The impact of AM 2.0 stretches us beyond the boundaries of globally centralized factory floors and opens the opportunity to distribute some part of the process to different corners of the world with the help of file transfer, file licensing, connectivity and collaboration enabled by 4IR technologies. This can help to absorb future supply chain shocks.
- The growing importance of sustainability
In a previous article, I referred to the benefits of moving digital files around the world, instead of shipping physical goods. Following the COP26 conference, there is an overwhelming acknowledgement that we, as a global community, are not addressing climate change fast enough. As the world starts to pay more for their energy usage, GHG emissions and the impacts on the communities that they operate in, manufacturers will quickly realize that their typical approach of externalizing environmental impacts of their manufacturing processes will not be accepted in a more climate-conscious world. Additionally, those Scope 3 emissions will start to become more closely scrutinized, which will result in financial implications and affect consumers’ perceptions of brands. As manufacturers start to internalize their manufacturing processes and own the reporting that will become more prominent, additive manufacturing will enable a higher level of visibility and control of the process while enabling a potentially significant reduction of emissions from goods transportation.
- Service bureaus and parts providers will extend their 3D printing capabilities into higher volumes of production
Over the years, parts providers have begun to see that 3D printing is not just advantageous for prototyping, but also production at low volumes. This comes at a time when consumers are becoming increasingly discerning in their purchasing values, beliefs and behaviour – where 50% of consumers showed interest in purchasing customized products or services, according to a Deloitte Consumer Review report. Parts providers that still use traditional manufacturing will find it increasingly difficult to cope with mass production and mass customization moving forward, as a customized product typically requires a different design, which implies a change to a fixed cost, such as a moulding tool, in traditional manufacturing processes, or an additional change cost within the line. 3D printing is an excellent and flexible solution for parts providers as companies and consumers begin to demand more personalization. For instance, Nissan manufactures 3D-printed replacement parts for older Nissan models on-demand to address the long tail of spare parts that are not sustainable to maintain with traditional manufacturing processes over a longer period. As these companies recognize the significant cost implications of part inventories, traditional moulds, maintenance, administration and logistics, they are quickly able to adopt 3D printing as a viable and long-term solution for addressing some of these challenges. With Service Bureaus and Part Providers at the frontier of these changes, and typically with an established relationship for those parts buyers, they will have increased volumes of printed parts compared to traditionally manufactured parts, and we see this today with printed part volumes increasing by ~30%.
- A focus on packaging – 3D printing will enable more sustainable packaging and will move the world away from single-use plastics
Most business leaders today see the advantages of 3D printing – reduced lead times, mass customization and flexibility in manufacturing. It is also a key enabler for more sustainable packaging innovations. This can include designing products that are printed with some level of packaging and labelling within the part that could not be achieved using traditional manufacturing. Additionally, 3D print can enable new innovations in existing technologies such as moulded fibre packaging. The moulded fibre packaging market is a worldwide industry, valued at $8 billion, and is the fastest-growing segment in this market, with growth being fueled by consumer demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging solutions, as well as the increase in take-out food and e-commerce. Traditionally, the moulded fibre manufacturing process involves: first, the form which is CNC-machined and manually drilled; then a screen is manually cut, shaped, and secured over the form. However, with technology like the HP Molded Fiber Advanced Tooling Solution, leveraging HP’s digital manufacturing process, many of these operations are removed as the forms and screens are printed at the same time, enabling production-ready tooling in a much shorter period. In turn, this will bring about advantages on the front of sustainability for industries that rely heavily on packaging on a massive scale, most notably those that package perishable goods. In addition, those durable goods that also require significant packaging, like consumer electronics, can benefit from more innovative solutions using this more sustainable packaging material.
- An increasing need for 3DP solution providers to enable deeper customer engagements that are outcome-based
As manufacturers expand their use of 3D print technologies within their value chains, there will increasingly be a need for providers of 3D print technologies to position outcome-based solutions to customers. This can include deeper collaborations and joint developments to enable new capabilities beyond a generic offering. For this to be successful, it will be important to look deeply into the part design, system hardware, software, materials, firmware, servicing, preprocessing, post-processing and ERP integration in a holistic solution offering. This will require significant collaborations across various stakeholders such as machine OEMs, material manufacturers, software companies and system integrators. As organizations’ use of the technology scale, there will be a need for a new level of service deliverable with a granularity that can ensure production stability, economic viability and market differentiation for the customer.