3D Printing – The New Industrial Revolution.
3D Printing. Until quite recently one of the best kept secrets of NASA technology, 3D printing is now finding its way into playrooms around the globe. Instead of painting books, kids will soon be getting printers to make their own figurines. Maybe even next Christmas – Mattel’s ThingMaker, a 3D printer for kids, is scheduled to be on sale from the fall of 2016. Is Barbie going into retirement, or totally reinventing herself?
The world’s second-largest toymaker is winding down its sales of dolls and shifting its focus to 3D printers, filaments, and software packages. The company could well become the world’s largest supplier of filaments – the raw material for 3D printing – and CAD files. That would be the end of the toymaker as such, and the beginning of the universal thing-maker for absolutely anything that can be printed in 3D. Furniture – made by Mattel. Shoes – made by Mattel. Fashion – made by Mattel.
Rapid Prototyping Was Yesterday.
Anyone who still thinks that 3D printing is only a neat bit of tech for short runs or prototyping, could be about to be overwhelmed by their own complacency. We have gone way beyond rapid prototyping. We are on the brink of rapid manufacturing.
Here’s an example: in the past, 20 individual components were needed to make one single injection nozzle. Each had its own special form and needed its own special tools. If one part was missing, the others couldn’t be fitted together. Today, the nozzle is made in a single additive process. This production method – almost without the need for tools or injection molding – saves materials, weight, and costs.
It is also energy-efficient and increasingly possible with recycled materials. Around the globe, the number of patents being filed for printing methods and materials is growing in leaps and bounds. In 2012, 3D printing in metals with laser technology had a worldwide market volume of 1.7 billion euros. This figure will have quadrupled by 2020.
Complete Cars from a 3D Printer.
Today, it is hard to imagine the automotive segment without 3D printing. At VW, they are already dreaming of complete production with 3D printers by 2035. BMW wants the interior of its “Next 100” concept car to be printed entirely from recyclable materials. The bodyshell of the car is planned to adapt dynamically to the driving process with the aid of 4D printing . Audi recently resurrected its legendary “Silver Arrow”. The bodywork of the half-scale, “Mini Silver Arrow” was produced entirely in a 3D printer. At present, Audi manufactures aluminum and steel components up to a size of 240 x 200 mm by 3D printing. In comparison with pressure die-casting and hot forming, the components achieve a greater density that could lead to even more robust vehicles.
Additive manufacturing processes are also increasingly utilized for the production of custom components. For example, for rarely required replacement parts or components that are no longer produced in series, as in the case of veteran and vintage vehicles. Instead of keeping stocks of such parts and components, suppliers maintain a store of corresponding CAD files that can be printed on demand. As long as a CAD file or a scannable original component is available, reproduction presents no problems and is extremely cost-effective. BMW has been utilizing this process for the past 25 years. Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway operator, is currently creating a database of replacement parts and, at Toyota, the idea has been taken one step further. The concern’s “Open Road Project” promotes the “iRoad” electric car. The car can not only be test-driven for a whole month, its drivers are also given the opportunity to customize various features themselves and add them to the concern’s database. In this way, Toyota makes crowdsourcing and the passion for pimping an integral part of their business model.
3D Printing Sounds the Death Knell of USPs.
Adidas manufactures footwear that is almost indestructible. At least, they could if they wanted to. Here, we see a case of an entire industry segment reaching the limits of its established business model: why should anyone want to buy a new pair of shoes every two years when the ones they have are still perfectly good? This is where the dilemma begins. On the one hand, manufacturers are finally in the position to fulfill their customers’ individual needs. On the other hand, they must ensure that the new production methods don’t ultimately destroy their own market.
Maybe the future will see a form of footwear leasing rather than outright buying. After a period of X months or years, the latest generation of shoes rolls up as a premium package. Shoes made of incredibly lightweight materials. Shoes in which your feet never sweat or get cold. Concerns now face the task of finding persuasive USPs and incentives – or paid added value concepts – to ensure customer retention.
3D-Freedom & 3D-Piracy
3D printing lets you make almost anything yourself. All you need is a 3D printer and a database where you can access the plans. Some of these databases are proprietary. Others are open to anyone, like thingiverse. Here, you can find “kits” for making violins, jewelry, lamps and much more. Today, people are already flying quadcopters made entirely by 3D printing. Even lethal weapons can be made with this technology. Both of these applications indicate that it may soon become necessary to set limits on home-based additive production. Where is the point at which this modern Do-It-Yourself model becomes a risk to the community – or endangers the revenues of a concern?
For instance, anyone reproducing the figures from the boardgame Settlers of Catan is violating copyright law and guilty of product piracy. So who will protect intellectual property in such future scenarios? Printer software? The state? Will data packages be coded and constantly tracked? How can concerns and makers defend themselves against product piracy? The digitalization of previously physical products such as CDs has already clearly illustrated that an entire industry can seriously suffer from the simple reproduction of digital products.
The Hand Ax of Our Day and Age: 3D Printing.
To put it plainly: 33 years after its invention, 3D printing is the hand ax of our day and age. It not only enables us to create highly individualized and more enduring products. The method allows the creation of complex objects that were not possible with traditional manufacturing technologies. Today, the production of consumer goods has, in some areas, already shifted from the factory to the customers’ homes – and certainly will shift even more when the current technology-gap between high-end printers in production environments and 3D printers for domestic use is closed at some time in the near future. A revolution that will have lasting effects on the business models of numerous industries. What these will be is what we have to find out!