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3D printing—it’s not just for the classroom anymore

3 ways 3D printing is at work in manufacturing

April 08, 2019

3D printing—it’s not just for the classroom anymore
3D printing has grown into a $6 billion industry and boasts a footprint in a wide range of industries—everything from jewelry and sporting goods to consumer electronics.
In 2016, nearly 500,000 3D printers shipped to eagerly awaiting customers. But that’s nothing compared to the estimated 6.7 million that will ship in 2020. As the cost of 3D printers declines—and the demand for technology soars—they’ll become more and more commonplace in the home and in business. 
So where does that leave traditional manufacturers? Will 3D printing completely disrupt conventional manufacturing processes—or will it take them to new heights?
How 3D printing is transforming manufacturing
3D printing already plays several roles in the manufacturing process, and it’s poised to make further gains as the technology is refined and perfected. Here are three ways your manufacturing customers can benefit from 3D printing today:
New design possibilities: 3D printing opens up new possibilities for manufacturers by changing the way they think about product development. Compared to traditional methods, 3D printing offers significant advantages for better products with optimized designs. Because 3D printers are a more flexible technology, design teams can experiment with different materials and structures that are stronger or more interesting and create complex geometric shapes that previous methods were incapable of realizing.
Faster development of prototypes: In a typical setup, research and development teams create prototypes either through handcrafting or from molds, both of which can take a lot of time. Using 3D printing, designers can save both time and money—greatly reducing the time it takes to create a working prototype. Cheaper, quicker prototype creation also speeds up product development, reducing costs across the board and shrinking the total time to market.
In addition, customers can get better results by removing steps and complexity in their workflow and collect real-time, hands-on customer feedback from prototypes that are closer to finalization and production. Using 3D printing, customers can even create several iterations of designs to gather customer feedback and make decisions about which is the best model. In the past, this practice would be costly and unfeasible.
More efficiency for low-volume production: 3D printers are also useful in low-volume production, like when small amounts of product are needed to test the market, conduct focus groups or advertise at trade shows.
With 3D printing doing low-volume production, customers can also get parts on the shelves more quickly, without the cost and commitment of mass production. This helps manufacturers maintain flexibility to adjust the design, if necessary, based on early customer feedback or competitive pressure. They’re no longer constrained by the capital assets needed for mass production.  
The bottom line: While 3D printing is growing in popularity with consumers, it also opens huge opportunities for manufacturers. And as the technology continues to improve, 3D printers will be able to produce more and more parts at a higher return on investment than conventional manufacturing techniques, which will improve manufacturing profitability, too.
For more information on how 3D printers can benefit your customers, contact the team at Ingram Micro.