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When it first arrived on the scene, 3D printing was more of a novelty, used by enthusiasts to create custom gear of all types. Now, the technology is suitable for commercial and industrial applications and it has been used to create everything from apartment buildings and homes to fully functional prosthetics.
In recent years, printers have been scaled up to create larger fabrications and components, and they’ve also been upgraded to work with a huge selection of materials like steel, wood, concrete, and more.
The technology introduces many benefits to the commercial world, like faster prototyping, cheaper production, and mobile manufacturing opportunities. It also enables mass customization, by allowing manufacturers to empower made-to-order and personalized bulk production processes.
But one of the more prominent benefits is the option to reduce fabrication and production costs. Here are just some of the ways that 3D printing helps lower fabrication costs across many industries:
1. Enhanced Prototyping
Faster, cheaper, and more accurate prototyping and concept work are possible with 3D printers. How? It simply boils down to how impressive and versatile the technology is.
With conventional prototyping, designers have to create a concept piece and then commission its development, usually through a third-party manufacturer. That can take time, but once the prototype arrives, it almost always needs adjustments. Sending it back to make those adjustments and repeating this process over and over until the concept is perfected, will ultimately extend the entire schedule.
Thanks to 3D printers, it can all be done in-house and quickly. Printing a prototype can take hours instead of days or weeks. Moreover, adjustments can be made instantly, and a new print can be created each time.
One company, Hartfiel Automation, was able to reduce average prototype costs per component from $125 down to $4. It also sped up their prototyping process, taking mere hours instead of days.
2. Faster Production Times
With 3D printers, components, parts, and various elements of a product can be created on-demand, and quickly. Incorporating this as part of the fabrication and manufacturing process cuts down on time spent waiting for outside parties to deliver the components. It also means manufacturers can create a self-sustaining system where most specs are developed and maintained in-house.
This is especially beneficial where parts must be built to incredibly precise dimensions or specifications. Since 3D printers can be incredibly precise, and they can be outfitted to work with a wide variety of materials, using them speeds up production time and increases both accuracy and quality of the finished goods.
Genesis Automation was able to use 3D printing to develop intricate parts for a client’s assembly system. Not only was 3D printing the only practical way to create it, but it was also cheaper to do so, much faster, and the resulting part is stronger than comparable options.
3. On-Site Manufacturing
Because 3D printers are generally portable, it’s possible to create items or parts while out in the field. NASA is doing precisely this and has outfitted the space station with 3D printers to create on-demand and makeshift tools.
Even in situations where the printer cannot be moved on-site, it’s possible to create prefabs or separate components with a facility, which are then moved and assembled on-site. This cuts down on a lot of time that would be spent waiting for supplies, components, and other resources. In construction, it can significantly speed up projects, as well as lower operational costs.
4. Lower Material Costs
Because of how 3D printers work, there’s no need to stock up on raw and bulky materials. In addition, printing works layer-by-layer so the materials tend to be packaged smaller, and there’s a lot less waste. 3D printing can also be used to create an efficient and smart design where fewer resources are needed to achieve similar results.
Collectively, these traits mean 3D printing can significantly reduce materials, waste, and efficiency costs just by how the technology naturally operates.
5. On-Demand Production
Because 3D printing is so fast, and time-to-market is considerably reduced, manufacturers have more opportunities to shift and evolve. If demand drops, they can shrink production to prevent losses. If demand grows, they can scale up production, on-demand, to meet the new requirements.
Low-volume production is even possible, which is something that was off the table for a lot of manufacturers, especially big organizations. Where in the past plants or facilities would continue running, almost indefinitely, now production can be slowed to meet changing market cycles with little to no effect on output.
6. Cheap Tooling Opportunities
Tools, jigs, fixtures, guards, and other add-ons can be designed and produced in-house, and for much cheaper. It’s yet another way the technology can help fabricators recover and reduce the associated costs.
Volkswagen Autoeuropa has been producing tools in-house, using 3D printers, for years. The company has been able to realize 90% cost reductions by creating the tools, instead of sourcing them from outside providers.
Using Volkswagen as inspiration, spare parts, equipment rigs, and a wide variety of other helpful components can be created using the technology, effectively improving the sustainability of manufacturers and reducing dependency, equipment, and maintenance costs.
You Cannot Deny 3D Printing’s Benefits
Beyond general cost savings and a reduction in fabrication costs, there are many benefits of adopting 3D printing in regular operations. The technology is cheaper and more accessible, and it’s fast when compared to similar options.
It has been improved to work with a wide variety of materials, from wood to concrete, and its potential grows each day. Moreover, it enables mass customization, on-demand manufacturing, and rapid prototyping.
The technology is already truly remarkable, which is why it’s impressive that we’ve merely scratched the surface in regards to what it can provide and what it can do.