3D printing could lead to a third industrial revolution
In 2020, the 3D printing industry will have an estimated worth of 8 billion dollars. With the development of a more efficient 3D printing process, it will be possible that the production on small scale is just as efficient as large scale production. With traditional manufacturing, small scale production can be very costly because it is labour-intensive. This is due to the lack of specialized machines and moulds. With more advanced 3D printing, it will be possible that more small scale production and prototyping becomes feasible. With 3D printing, the price of production per item remains constant. Even with a high amount of units. This means that with 3D printing, economies of scale are much less important. This is due to the fact that the software can be tweaked and therefore minor adjustments can be easily made. The cost of labour will decrease because the amount of employees directly involved in producing products will decrease. Therefore, manufacturers could start to switch from mass manufacturing to individualized production in order to respond to customer demand. This means that the design process and the manufacturing process come closer together. As a result, manufacturers could start to move the offshore production (back) to the western countries. According to the Economist, this could lead to a ‘third industrial revolution’.
With 3D printing, manufacturers are able to further develop capabilities such as mass customization, on-demand production and they will be better able to support the ‘long tail’. For specialized products, such as doorknobs and spare parts, it is often not justified to mass produce them. This is due to the fact that the demand is not large enough to cover for the production, inventory and maintenance costs. 3D printing would solve this problem because it gives companies the opportunity to produce customized products from the same platform with minimal ‘retooling’ costs. There are many products that are standard and have a very low demand but that are necessary to maintain (e.g. spare parts). 3D printing solves the problem of storage costs and loss of value over time for these parts. Manufacturers could also support the ‘long tail’ better by switching from designing for complete part replacement to designing for part component replacement.
Do you believe that 3D printing could lead to a ‘third industrial revolution’?
– Chalmers, J. (2013) 3D printing: not yet a new industrial revolution, but its impact will be huge, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/11/3d-printing-not-yet-a-new-industrial-revolution-but-its-impact-will-be-huge
– Markillie, P. (2012) A third industrial revolution, http://www.economist.com/node/21552901
– Robbins, J., Webb, S. (2013) Rethinking Industrial Manufacturing Through 3D Printing, http://www.automationworld.com/rethinking-industrial-manufacturing-through-3d-printing