Industry 4.0 is the new hot buzz word in manufacturing. Otherwise known as The Fourth Industrial Revolution, it refers to the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology. 3D printing is a key pillar of this transformation which will allow Industry 4.0 to reach its greatest potential – mass customization, distributed manufacturing, and full process control. Today, 3D printing is changing manufacturing by shortening turnaround time, decreasing cost for low volume manufacturing, and supporting complex designs which are impossible to produce using traditional manufacturing methods.
1. Overview of The 3D Printing Market Today
3D printing has been touted as the future by many, including Forbes. Unfortunately, with the outbreak of COVID-19 this year, the future looks grim for many industries, including additive manufacturing. Experts predict the decline of the global 3D printer manufacturing market from USD 10.1 billion in 2019 to USD 8.71 billion in 2020 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -13.76%. The pandemic has led to restrictions including remote working and the closure of industries, 3D printing farms not being an exception. Despite this, the 3D printing market is expected to recover and reach USD 16.69 billion in 2023 at a CAGR of 24.2%.
According to Essentium’s survey conducted in March 2019, the number of manufacturers using 3D printing for full scale production doubled in 2019, compared to 2018. The increasing adoption of 3D printing for industrial solutions is a key factor for its growth. This saw the evolving of 3D printing from a prototyping tool to a functional process for end use parts. New materials and shorter lead times while adhering to standards and quality control are enabling the technology to integrate into manufacturing processes.
2. Shorter Turnaround Time
3D printing transforms manufacturing by shortening turnaround time through removing the need for a mold. Traditional manufacturing methods require a rigid frame called a mold or matrix to shape liquid or pliable raw material. It takes 8 to 10 weeks on average to manufacture a mold, depending on the complexity. With 3D printing, the mold is completely obsolete. This is because 3D printing is an additive manufacturing method, where material is added layer by layer to produce parts. Therefore, lead time is largely reduced as you can skip a step ahead to manufacturing directly. Each part’s printing time ranges from as short as a few hours, to a few days for massive prints.
3. Decreased Cost for Low Volume Manufacturing
3D printing is changing manufacturing by reducing cost through removing the need for a mold. According to Rex Plastics, a small, single cavity plastic injection mold usually costs between USD 1,000 and USD 5,000. Very large or complex molds may cost as much as USD 80,000 or more. On average, a typical mold costs USD 12,000. It is therefore evident that producing a mold is not cheap at all!
As a result, by removing the step of creating a mold in the first place, 3D printing reduces cost by diving straight to manufacturing the end product. This is especially useful for low volume manufacturing where companies only wish to produce 1 to less than 1000 pieces. With low quantities, it does not make sense financially to produce a mold. That being said, if you wish to produce a large quantity of parts (say more than 1000), it is more cost effective to go for traditional manufacturing methods instead. This is due to the fact that the cost of producing a mold would then be justified.
4. Capability To Produce Complex Designs
3D printing makes freedom of design possible. With the introduction of advanced 3D printing methods such as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), complex designs can be produced without batting an eye. This is due to the fact that SLS is a powder based 3D printing technology, and the powder acts as self supporting powder. As a result, it does not require removal of support. Without the need for support, SLS 3D printing can thus produce complex designs easily without fine lines.
5. The Future Of 3D Printing
With the endless possibilities of 3D printing, we can see widespread adoption of the technology across the globe. However, one key challenge faced by AM companies is the presence of a knowledge gap between consumers and the advanced technology. Many manufacturers know about 3D printing, however they are unclear about where 3D printing can fit into their production cycle. Hence, more can be done to make additive manufacturing more accessible. With training implemented in universities and workplaces, we hope to see 3D printing become easily adopted by the interested layman.