Manufacturing, as an industry, is poised to reinvent itself in a huge way. While the beginning of the Industrial Revolution signaled the start of constructing factories designed to house massive tools, along with the employees needed to run them, 3-D printing is leading the trend of moving away from this type of large-scale operation. With the advent of 3-D printing, manufacturers can now produce the goods they need on-spec and in the quantities their customers have already ordered.

How 3-D Printing is Making a Difference in Manufacturing

America is a country of do-it-yourselfers and entrepreneurs — and it always has been. Being an entrepreneur on a small scale, in which a savvy inventor builds something in their garage for their own personal use, has often meant that the reach of the product ends there. Taking it to the next level where it can be mass produced typically ends up being a bumpy road marked by twists and turns that might eventually wind up with the entire project scrapped. 3-D printing enables anyone to become a manufacturer without the need for lots of equipment, a huge factory space or even employees. The technology enables the manufacturer of a range of products on a small scale using materials as varied as concrete, plastic, metal, chocolate and more.

3-D Printing Isn’t New, But It’s Evolving

3D printing is evolving

Many people are touting the “new” technology that is 3-D printing when the concept has been in existence for several decades at this point. The difference now, though, is related to technology. The innovations in the field have made it easier than ever for a small business to tap into the resources offered by the 3-D printing industry. This is due to a new affordability in not only the equipment, but in the services that use this equipment. So, even if this sort of printing and manufacturing is not the forté of your business — and you have no interest in investing in the equipment needed for additive manufacturing — as 3-D printing is often called — there are small businesses that offer the ability for you to have manufacturing completed on a smaller scale. This allows your business to craft viable solutions that result in a prototype being delivered quickly for tweaking before moving on to the next stage in the process.

Not Just For Small Projects

The above example might lead some to believe that 3-D printing is best for manufacturing on a small scale. This theory, however, doesn’t hold true as the technology evolves to include a variety of industries that specialize in large projects. The aerospace industry is one that has embraced the technology behind additive manufacturing as doing so has allowed for further refinement for parts at the prototype stage. This saves the industry both time and money amid budgets that already face tightening. The healthcare and automotive industries are other areas where huge projects are being developed using 3-D printing to print out prosthetics, replacement parts and topographical models that can be customized to meet a very narrow and specific need.

Still-Untapped Possibilities Await

Though many executives and managers — and even some engineers — aren’t aware of it, additive manufacturing is the future for businesses that want to sustain themselves for the long run. Whether a business is in the manufacturing industry or it relies on that industry to provide product for its customer base, 3-D printing is a technology that is being embraced. Manufacturers that don’t adopt it might find themselves unable to keep up with their customers’ demands for the superior flexibility and customization that is afforded them by the use of 3-D printing. Even though the direct costs involved in producing goods using this method is often higher due to the equipment and materials used, these increases are negligible when compared to its advantages. In addition, those businesses that offer this type of precision to their customers now can expect to gain a firm market share within their industry while they look forward to a dip in costs as the technology becomes more widespread.

Questions Manufacturers Need to Ask Themselves

Manufacturing executives and managers need to have frank discussions to determine what the business needs in order to become — or remain competitive — within its industry. Though it might seem that 3-D printing won’t affect their own particular industry, the technology has already dramatically altered the landscape of the country’s hearing aid manufacturing field — and there is strong evidence that it will do so again. Consider the following when deciding if your business should embrace 3-D printing technology:

  1. Can your products be improved — either by you or a competitor? Due to the intricate layering ability that is afforded to manufacturers by 3-D printing, the possibilities for customization are limited only by the imagination.
  2. How can your operations be improved? Implementing additive manufacturing allows for creative new options for materials that can be used, the supply chains that deliver those materials to you, the parameters of the manufacturing process itself and more.
  3. Can your company support the digital networks needed to integrate with the other elements within the system, such as the movers and designers? A robust platform that can be tapped into for the movement of ideas, materials and product is a vital link between you and your customers.

Manufacturers that are willing to break out of the mold and embrace the technology that is available to them — right now — are the ones that are poised to lead the movement to make America a manufacturing powerhouse that is even greater than it was in its heyday. 3-D printing is the future of manufacturing. Either businesses are going to adapt to it sooner or later, or they’ll need to get out of the way of those who do.