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Role of 3D Printing

Role of 3D Printing
What’s been driving local manufacturing? A variety of issues. Questions such as, how do I get my parts made on the same day that I need them? How can I reduce inventory and warehousing costs generally? How can I reduce my total cost of supply chain? The issue of globalisation is forcing times to be constrained even more, times for delivery, and customers are wanting more and more order fulfilment very, very quickly, and perfect first time. All of that drives a solution where manufacturing is kept locally, control is a lot closer and a lot easier, supply chains are constrained in size, and delivery time is obviously then reduced.
Other issues that globalisation is bringing up are delays in delivery, delays for products to get through customs. And the advantage of local manufacture is it completely bypasses that. And quite a few governments around the world have now picked up on that, and are offering incentives for local manufacturing, both at a state and at a community level. The reason why 3D printing is an answer to many of these questions is that it offers the technology to be able to put manufacturing exactly where is needed. For example, you can have a 3D printer located right next to you on a desk. You can have the 3D printer located at a manufacturing facility where parts might be needed.
Recent patents have also been filed to put printers on trucks, so that as the truck is arriving at the destination, the part is being manufactured on the way. 3D printing has accelerated in the last few years, in terms of development, so that the costs have come down, the speed of printing has come down. And the facility to use the design software has got to the point where we can pretty much design whatever we want, and make it out of the materials we want, where we want it. 3D printing has a number of challenges. It’s not the panacea to all solutions. We will still need injection moulding. We will still need the plastic teaspoon to be made using traditional methods.
3D printing currently, however, has a number of hurdles. On the technical side, the quality of the products as they come out still leaves a lot to be desired. There’s still a lot of post-printing finishing required to products. The number of materials that can be used in one item is still very constrained, although we’ve managed to go from one to many in the last 12 months. The speed of printing is still measured in hours, which for a large item, a large industrial item, is still an advantage on tooling times and advantage in production times, where you’ve gone from weeks and days down to a matter of hours.
However, you’ve got issues of and pricing as well, because we’re moving supply chains from a product-driven supply chain to a digital supply chain. And in the same way that the music industry had to go through a revolution 15, 20 years ago as we went from physical music to digital music, we’re going to find the same issues with 3D printing, where we’re going to have to charge for licences. We’re going to have to charge for the printing of a product without actually charging for the product itself. There are a number of other spin-offs that come from that. How do you protect your IP? How do you gather import taxations when you’re dealing with printing across international borders?
How do you deal with the issue of liability when it’s your customer that’s printed off the part, whether it was your printer or their printer? Who’s responsible if there is a problem with that particular part, whether on the quality assurance or on the use of the part?

3D printing may not be a panacea, but it will play a major role in enabling more localised manufacturing. However, it is not without its challenges.

The concept of 3D printing or additive manufacturing is not new. Like supply chain it has been around for more than 30 years, and was more commonly known as rapid prototyping. It was a way of creating a prototype of a product (initially printed circuit boards) directly from a Computer Aided Design (CAD) file. The technology has advanced over the last 3 decades to enable products and parts to be printed in a range of different materials, and to final product quality. The obvious benefit that such a technology provides as highlighted by Len Pannett (Partner, Visagio) is that enables more localised production. This could even be as localised as your home.

As Len discusses in the video above, the technology is developing at a phenomenal rate but is not without its challenges. There are still issues with product quality, which often require costly post-printing finishing processes. The number of materials that can be used within a single item is still limited, and the production speed still measured in hours and not minutes. There are also challenges around the pricing and commercial models, as 3D printing enables us to move from a product driven to digitally driven supply chain for a wide range of products. In this respect there may be lessons to learn from the music industry. It also raises issues around Intellectual Property (IP), liability, and taxation as we move to an age of production without borders.

These legal implications are the focus for the next section.

For a more in-depth understanding of the opportunities and challenges of 3D printing to support more localised manufacturing please view Len’s full presentation: Role of 3D printing (22:44)

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