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PROPERTY & CASUALTY
JAN 25, 2018
Pros and Cons of 3-D Printing in Manufacturing
3-D printers. By now, we’ve all seen them in action and have a grasp of their capabilities for personal use. But on a professional level, 3-D printers have the potential to entirely disrupt and reshape the manufacturing industry. Think tank McKinsey Global Institute research predicts that the 3-D printing market could have an impact of nearly $550 billion per year by 2025.
According to many business experts, our world is now in its fourth industrial revolution, one that’s entrenched in digital technology, robotics and now, 3-D printing. With the impending prevalence of 3-D printing in the manufacturing industry, known as additive manufacturing, companies will be able to produce their own building materials including paints, plastics, medical equipment and much more. These printers are able to create complex designs using materials ranging from plastic, metal and paper to more unusual components such as sugar, wax and even human tissue.
While 3-D printers offer endless manufacturing opportunities, they also come with some risks. Below are a few of the pros and cons for you to consider when deciding if 3-D printing is a good fit for your business.
– On average, traditional manufacturing operations waste about 21 percent of their materials. Additive manufacturing only uses the materials it needs to build products. So, including the materials 3-D printers use to fabricate support structures, their waste maxes out at less than 10 percent.
– 3-D printers can create a dozen different products in the same time as it would a dozen copies of the same product. So, it doesn’t cost any extra if your company needs the flexibility to change what it’s producing and allow for easy customization.
– Products have a faster time to market, thanks to the shortened production process of additive manufacturing and the improved product life cycle. 3-D printers can cut the time it takes to create a new product between 40 to 95 percent.
– The possibilities of additive manufacturing technology are virtually endless. This means market penetration is likely to dramatically increase, enabling entry for new players due to the lower startup costs.
– Although 3-D printer sales are on the rise, it’s still expensive to purchase one for manufacturing purposes. Large manufacturers might pay anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million for a 3-D printer.
– As with most technology, 3-D printing technology is continually changing. This might cause adapters to wait before committing to purchasing one. (This is when printer rentals become handy!) The newer technology also means the choice of printing materials aren’t as varied as with traditional manufacturing.
– Another aspect of new technology is the lack of experts who know how to use, maintain and repair 3-D printers. The learning curve with additive manufacturing can be steep and time-consuming.
– Printing a product isn’t the same as printing a document – inconsistency can occur. To ensure reliable processes and products, control and inspection methods will need to be developed and adapted when required.
– As 3-D printers and additive manufacturing are becoming more and more popular, connected industries like insurance are only just starting to catch up. Manufacturers will need to start thinking about product liability, equipment breakdown and business interruption losses. There could also be health-related claims due to dust and inert gas which are by-products of production.
While the shiny promise of new technology is always enticing, it pays to weigh the pros and cons before diving in. As more companies start embracing additive manufacturing, the industry will be presented with new opportunities and new challenges. The key is to stay current with the changes in technology, costs, benefits and risks associated with 3-D printing before taking the leap.