Consider the Industrial Revolution and the perfecting of mass production. It took a great deal of ingenuity and innovation to arrive at the efficiencies afforded by interchangeable parts and assembly lines. And many of us today believe we’re still living in that golden era of consumerism and highly efficient production. But what if that’s not the end of the story? What if we are on the cusp of yet another revolution?
According to Rick Smith of CloudDDM, we are now at the tipping point of another, greater manufacturing revolution that will change not only how products are made, but will disrupt the entire global supply chain. It’s called 3D printing.
The upside for entrepreneurs
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is nothing new. The technology has been around for more than 20 years. But with falling costs and rising quality, 3D printing is now at a jumping-off point for a manufacturing revolution.
This is especially good news for entrepreneurs. With manufacturing costs at a fraction of the price of traditional methods, entrepreneurs no longer have to break the bank to realize their idea in physical form. 3D printing is also much quicker. What once took months to accomplish, additive manufacturing can do in a matter of days.
The combination of reduced costs and quicker manufacturing times means entrepreneurs can benefit from rapid prototyping. A manufacturer using 3D printing can race through iterations to arrive at an end product in record time. If you look at this from a funding perspective, this means owners of burgeoning businesses have the opportunity to present to potential lenders and receive funds sooner.
This also leaves the door wide open for innovation to thrive more than ever before. With 3D printing, the barrier to entry for new products is diminished, leaving the way clear for entrepreneurs, hobbyists and makers to experiment and take more risks — resulting in the development of innovative new products.
GE and 3D printing
But rapid prototyping and product experimentation are still not the end of the story for 3D printing. General Electric has proven in a number of instances that this technology can be used for end product production with results that range from vastly cheaper to massively effective.
For example, a little over a year ago, GE printed a new fuel injection system for a jet engine. This new system was printed in one piece and replaced the previous system, which had 21 pieces that all had to be manufactured, shipped and assembled. The new 3D printed system was five times as strong and allowed for a 15-percent increase in efficiency — saving the company $1 million per jet engine.
Changing the rules of manufacturing
To really understand the revolutionizing efficiency of additive manufacturing, you first need to understand how traditional manufacturing works today. It’s simple, really. The more you produce, the cheaper the cost of the product.
With 3D printing, those rules no longer apply.
Manufacturers also have the freedom to customize to specific customers on demand, or spread production to various stations, each printing only what is needed for the location. Just think of the possibilities if you could simply email your product design to a printer on the other side of the globe to have it quickly manufactured there, instead of having to ship it with costly postal and assembly fees!
Like any new booming technology, there are bound to be a dozen offshoots from enterprising individuals. For example, people who own personal 3D printing machines are renting them out to manufacturing entrepreneurs on platforms such as 3D Hubs.
No longer will entrepreneurs have to dish out cash for a costly manufacturing warehouse. They can simply send their file to a 3D printing neighbor.
If you think this is unrealistic, you might want to think again. According to data from 3D Hubs cited in Harvard Business Review, “1 billion people on this planet already have a 3D printer within 10 miles of their homes.”
Leveling the playing field
Most importantly, 3D printing is placing small business firmly on the same playing field as larger manufacturing corporations. Allowing for more cost effective manufacturing capabilities, quick iteration times, availability of printing machines and a reduced barrier to entry for creating new products, the little guys have a whole arsenal of tools to compete with big business.
We are currently on the brink of the first manufacturing revolution since the Industrial Revolution. This one will see dramatic changes such as on-demand product customization, availability of manufacturing stations all over the globe, faster innovation and reduced costs. We may even see a decrease in outsourcing, as products made “in home” become cheaper and more efficient through the use of 3D printing. Whatever the case may be, this is certainly an innovation that everyone should keep their eyes on.