3D printing isn't just for product development anymore. And that's a good thing, since there are major shifts going on in customer dynamics that affect how and where they live, what products they want, and how and where they want to buy them. 3D printing is now adding value to manufacturers at all steps along the business value chain.
"3D printing is no longer just a technology for engineers to use for rapid prototyping or to improve design capabilities," John Jaddou, co-founder of design consultancy Addeation, told Design News. "It can be leveraged not only to create value in the overall product development process, but also throughout the business value chain: from product design to new business models to supply chain innovation."
At the same time, engineers and their companies are continuing to leverage 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) in product development to make new product breakthroughs. "With traditional manufacturing, we're limited to certain geometries and materials, so we must design for the process -- whether it's injection molding or casting, for example -- but doing that constrains design freedom," said Jaddou. "With AM, we have much more flexibility and the ability to leverage a broader engineering toolchest, like topology optimization, which allows us to optimize the design for functionality."
With AM engineers can design geometries that reduce overall weight; or provide more functionality, such as variable stiffness or complex fluid flow; or add features that would otherwise not be possible using conventional manufacturing approaches. Engineers have the ability to modulate where material is added, or to optimize design-for-functionality, which is an attractive value proposition, said Jaddou. "Now we can imagine new designs from a completely clean slate without being constrained by the process, and we can realize those designs, thanks to the power of AM."
Powerful Printing is 3D. John Jaddou will be covering the evolution of additive manufacturing and what that means to the future of business during "The Power of 3D Printing and Its Impact on the Business Value Chain" at Automation Technology. Sept. 21-22, 2016 in Minneapolis. Register here for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM.
AM and 3D printing are also helping engineers and their companies address some of the major shifts that are occurring in how OEMs bring innovation to their products and target them to a larger number of customer segments, plus changes in the products customers want. "Innovation is all about the connection between the product and the customer," said Jaddou. "It's not innovation until the customer sees it as innovation, and AM makes it possible to rapidly design and iterate new, innovative products that meet customer needs and create value."
Currently, it takes a long time to get all the parts of a traditional manufacturing process working together, so OEMs don't often do pilot testing with real, fully functional products. Instead, they may do focus groups or other primary research to feed the front end of the innovation pipeline. "But what customers tell us upfront when we are designing a product and how they eventually behave when we introduce a product are not always the same thing," said Jaddou. "This can cause a breakdown between what we think customers want and what they actually want."
Since the adoption of AM processes can reduce the time it takes, plus the necessary capital, to go to market, it's possible to do pilot testing more effectively and economically. Instead of making multiple product innovations at once before testing to see which ones may work, manufacturers can do actual, rapid, in-market or pilot testing and get real customer feedback. "Here, we're talking about functional prototypes or Generation 1 design," said Jaddou. "We can make as few as 1,000 products and pilot test them in a specific geographic market."
AM and 3D printing can make it possible to expand the number of customer segments an OEM targets while also reducing waste. For many new products it's not economical to design many different versions. Instead, companies constrained by traditional manufacturing may design too few. If only one model is built in huge quantities and offered to customers with varying needs, as many as half of them may not be sold at all. "With AM, we can increase the number of product variations based on customer needs," said Jaddou. "The advantage here is being able to segment the market and make unique products for each of the different segments, since it's feasible to make only 1,000 or 5,000 parts of a model. We're not limited to having only one or two segments in order to reduce unit cost with high volumes, because the cost curve is much flatter with AM."
Jaddou will be giving a talk on these subjects at next month's ATX conference in Minneapolis. "The Power of 3D Printing and Its Impact on the Business Value Chain" will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 3:45 p.m.
His presentation will discuss the evolution in additive manufacturing technologies and industry adoption; creating value along the business value chain from product design to new business models to supply chain innovation; and the implications of long-term dynamics and mega-trends on design requirements, flexible manufacturing, and on-demand production. He will also talk about how 3D printing and AM are affecting business model innovation and supply chain innovation.
Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 29 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.