How 3D Printing Will Turn Manufacturing on Its Head
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3D printing is making its mark as it reshapes product development and manufacturing and turns individuals, small businesses and corporate departments into "makers."
CSC’s new report, 3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing, explores the opportunities of 3D printing and looks at the key questions companies should be asking themselves as they start down this road. Join experts from CSC’s Leading Edge Forum and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory as we discuss the report’s findings.
- Jarrod Bassan, Senior Consultant, CSC
- Gordon Fuller, Principal, CSC
- Paul Gustafson, Director, Leading Edge Forum
- Gabriel Rangel, Emerging IT Specialist, Office of the CIO, NASA/JPL
- Tomas Soderstrom, Chief Technology Officer, Office of the CIO, NASA/JPL
- Vivek Srinivasan, Regional Manager - Executive Programme, Leading Edge Forum
- Jeff Caruso, Senior Managing Editor, CSC
How 3D Printing Will Turn Manufacturing on Its Head
3D printing sounds like something straight out of science fiction, but the idea that you can use a computer to quickly create complex objects seemingly out of thin air is a reality. With prices of 3D printers dropping, it’s a technology that’s becoming more widespread.
If making an object becomes as easy as downloading a file and clicking a “Print” button, what does that mean for the manufacturing industry? That and other implications of 3D printing were topics in CSC’s Town Hall meeting, and in a recent CSC report, “3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing.”
“The term ‘3D printing’ has been broadly adopted, but what we’re talking about is additive manufacturing,” says Vivek Srinivasan, one of the researchers of the report and regional manager of the Executive Programme for CSC’s Leading Edge Forum. “For example, in traditional manufacturing, creating a tool like a wrench involves forging, grinding, milling, and assembly, not to mention the molds, jigs and fixtures needed in the process. By contrast, 3D printing can create an adjustable wrench in a single operation, layer by layer. The wrench comes out fully assembled and ready to be used with all of its moving parts.”
3D printing is evolving rapidly, Srinivasan says. It won’t replace all forms of manufacturing, but for the right applications, 3D printing offers compelling benefits. “3D printing can make objects with a complex internal structure that would be almost impossible using traditional methods. There’s no large factory and no retooling of an entire assembly line. The same printer that creates a piece of art can be used next to print a bike part. And that printer can be kept close to the point of consumption, which has implications for logistics,” he says.
3D printing has been popular for creating prototypes and small sample parts for a few years now. Jarrod Bassan, another researcher who worked on the report and a CSC senior consultant in Melbourne, Australia, offered examples of the way 3D printing is being used to create finished products. One example demonstrated the use of a laser scanner to make an exact model of an athlete’s foot, building a 3D-printed shoe around that model. “It’s molded exactly to that foot using the minimum amount of material and is about 30% lighter than any other commercially made product,” Bassan says. “It’s designed to give a 3.5% performance improvement to the athlete.”
Bassan says that 3D printing is driving innovation in more ways than uniquely made printed objects. Business models are evolving as well. “There are a number of companies today that enable you to upload a design to a website and press the ‘Print’ button. They will print it and ship it to you. Companies like Sculpteo take it one step further. They help offer your product in a 3D marketplace. They will take the orders, print it and send it to the buyer. You collect the profit from the end of it.”
Gordon Fuller, a principal at CSC, says 3D printing creates unique opportunities and threats for a broad range of industries. “Companies have the ability to update their supply chains to take advantage of the local printing and use it as a cheaper supply chain, a more responsive supply chain. Of course, they have competitors doing the same thing, so they have to be aware that they need to be more nimble in moving forward with this,” Fuller says.
“When making decisions about new facilities or longer-term contracts, companies must decide how vulnerable their product lines and their supply chains are to 3D printing," Fuller says. "Even for a facility that might have a payback period of five years or seven years, that’s starting to be in the range of time that companies have to examine seriously how 3D printing will improve or threaten their activities.”
NASA JPL uses 3D printers
Organizations with existing prototyping capabilities are already experiencing change with the introduction of 3D printing. NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have a long history of building one-of-a-kind vehicles that have relied extensively on intricate, custom-made parts, crafted by experienced machinists.
3D printing has allowed mechanical engineers to improve designs rapidly, but the group still relies on machinists for many of its finished products, says Gabriel Rangel, emerging IT specialist at the Office of the CIO, NASA/JPL.
“Our expert machinists with decades of experience in building one-of-a-kind space parts are looking at this capability and asking ‘Why do we need this plastic? We should put our resources together so that we can get even finer quality,’” Rangel says. “They were absolutely right, which is why we’ve adopted an approach of ‘innovating together.’ Our mechanical engineers need 3D printing to accelerate prototyping. And the process that we have to get a high-quality machined part doesn’t go away with 3D printing. In fact, it widens the audience and the need to get higher quality.”
NASA/JPL says 3D printing has driven down the cost of prototyping and helped develop a crowdsourcing aspect to innovation.
“We come up with designs for things that have never been done before to go to a different planet. We make a lot of different prototypes, and it takes a long time to select them,” says Tomas Soderstrom, CTO in the Office of the CIO, NASA/JPL. “Now we print them all out for 50 cents apiece, then select the right ones to go after in detail. That’s a huge advancement for us. That’s internal crowdsourcing.”
New kinds of objects
Bassan says advances in material science will allow 3D printers to create objects that can’t be made by traditional manufacturing methods. “If we can control the crystalline structure of metals, just imagine some of the properties we could imbue to a metal part that’s hard and brittle at one end but the same piece of metal is springy and soft at the other end.”
Paul Gustafson, director of CSCs Leading Edge Forum, says some aspects of 3D printing will require companies to rethink business models or how they protect their intellectual property.
“We’ve seen the bumps along the way in the media world with DVDs. We have to look at leadership coming out of the media industry to drive some of the standards we need to help manage these bits and the rights so you can ‘print once,’ versus copy and replace. There are a lot of things in motion that need to be worked out,” he says.
Fuller says the impact of 3D printing will be felt more acutely in some industries than others. “The retail area will be completely revamped. What happens when you can scan something in a store and print it out at home?” he says. “Eyeglasses, for example. Currently $250 a pair. I can print them out on a 3D printer for 25 cents in materials… Large assembly industries, automotive, industrial machines, those are still going to be made as they have been. But beyond that - wow.”
A free copy of the report is available from CSC.