No, 3-D printing is not going to put you out of business.
We don’t think, anyway.
In case you haven’t heard, 3-D printing is a Thing. As opposed to “subtractive” manufacturing, where you take stuff and cut away everything that doesn’t look like the end product, 3-D printing is “additive” manufacturing. A 3-D printer sprays a thin layer of material and builds up layers, and the result is the product.
“3-D printing has been around for decades,” writes Computer Sciences Corp. (@CSC). “What’s new is that 3-D printing has reached consumer-friendly price points and footprints, new materials and techniques are making new things possible, and the Internet is tying it all together.”
It’s certainly true that 3-D printing is eventually going to transform manufacturing. No less than the Economist has called it a new Industrial Revolution. However, despite what some people may say, it’s not going to eliminate manufacturing.
3-D printing is good for several things. It’s good for prototypes. It’s good for design. It’s good for one-offs.
What it’s not good for is things that need to be manufactured in large quantities. Because of the spraying technique, it takes a while to manufacture an item. Consequently, it takes even longer to manufacture a lot of items.
So, in what cases might you have to worry about this? If you make some small widgets that an individual could easily duplicate at home, that might be a problem. The problem is that while 3-D printing isn’t perfect, in many cases it will be “good enough” for some businesses – particularly businesses that never had their own manufacturing capability, CSC writes in its report, 3-D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing.
Chances are, however, that 3-D printing can actually help your business. Because it’s good for prototypes and design, it can make those processes easier and more streamlined for your company – before you set up the machines to manufacture the part in large quantity.
And because 3-D printing is good for small quantities of items, it can end up helping you provide better customer service without having to keep an entire warehouse full of outdated widgets in case one of your customers might need one sometime. Instead, just keep the files for printing the widgets around, and when someone needs one, print it up.
3-D printing is an important trend and it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it and even play with it. But you needn’t run around like the sky is falling.
Steve Leavitt, GM of U.S. Cloud Solutions for Exact