Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has undergone a rampant evolution since the first 3D printer was invented in 1983. New industry developments are announced almost daily, making possibilities limitless.
The abilities of additive manufacturing have proven to be wide-ranging, granting companies the ability to create physical objects — from teeny brackets for dental braces to multi-story single-family homes — using just a digital design file.
From a significant reduction in time and costs spent on product development and inventory to increased customization and sustainability, here are four reasons why every CEO should be thinking about additive manufacturing:
1. Lower Production Costs
One of the frequently cited advantages of 3D printing is the reduction of time and costs spent on product development. Traditional manufacturing methods and equipment (like injection molds, CNC machining, tooling, etc.) can be expensive and time consuming, particularly for companies relying on small-batch production or customized/made-to-order products.
With additive manufacturing, companies can create product prototypes — which ordinarily cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 — for a fraction of the cost. Lower costs on prototype creation and assembly means faster iteration and testing, and in turn, a quicker time-to-market.
2. Increased Design Flexibility/Customization
Another key benefit of additive manufacturing is the ability to create complex designs that may otherwise be impossible to produce and/or replicate using traditional manufacturing processes.
Over the years, 3D printing has been used for a variety of customized, made-to-fit products, including:
- Custom-fit prosthetics and orthotics for medical patients
- Custom-fit, one-of-a kind jewelry pieces
- Customized auto parts, including engine covers, lighting systems and custom-fit car interiors
- Custom-fit shoes tailored to the size and shape of an individual customer’s foot
- Even custom-shape candies, chocolate and pizzas with unique designs
Whether it’s biomedical devices, jewelry, footwear, automotive, construction or even food, 3D printing offers a distinctive approach to product customization and design flexibility, enabling companies to create unique internal and external structures and features and endless personalization.
3. On-Demand Production
Inventory carry costs can be a costly expenditure for companies, making up 20-30% of their total inventory costs. Coupled with the costs of warehousing, insurance and other inventory-related expenses, housing unsold inventory can eat directly at a business’ bottom line.
Rather than having to maintain a large inventory of parts and products, on-demand production from 3D printing allows companies to produce parts only when needed.
On-demand production also provides resilience against a mercurial supply chain, helping companies reduce their dependency on specific suppliers (whether domestic or international) — meaning companies can quickly replicate and replace parts or products in the event of supply chain disruptions (as made evident by the 2021, and still ongoing, global supply chain crisis).
With more companies balancing their carbon footprints while meeting consumer demands, additive manufacturing could be the way that companies satisfy both of those needs.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, raw materials transported to factories accounted for nearly a quarter of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.
Additive manufacturing has made it easier to produce goods on-demand and locally, meaning raw materials can be transported to local facilities, where they are then used to produce finished products on-site — eliminating the need for products to be shipped long distances for assembly, and significantly reducing a companies’ carbon footprint (while also keeping production and jobs within local communities).
By adopting 3D printing, CEOs can improve their business’ production times, speed up product development, and (arguably) above all, reduce costs. While it’s important to note that additive manufacturing may not be the right fit or investment for every company, as 3D printing technology continues to evolve, the possibilities are fruitful and endless.