There is no doubt – 3D Printers have a wow factor. Whether they are creating a plastic knee joint, one-of-a-kind metal turbine blades or a chocolate pyramid, they are a marvel.
But, are they practical for the typical shop floor?
No, for the majority of manufacturing and shop business they have not been. Overall, owners have been underwhelmed by 3D Printing and its applications for their products. It has failed to live up to the hype.
So, why is it time to start taking it more seriously?
We are still in the infancy of 3D printing, and its potential is nowhere close to being fulfilled or recognized. Even so, it is already in the process of completely transforming aerospace and medical manufacturing. If it is not already there, it will soon be coming to your industry.
Each generation of printers has made big leaps forward – improved scalability, faster and better-connected systems/automation, reduction of time wasting pre/post-processing, full production capabilities, expanded raw materials options, fewer obstacles to wide-scale uptake and multiple printers able to communicate with each other in real time.
Does this mean I should buy one?
No, it does not. But, it does mean is that you should start paying attention. For many industries, 3D printers have passed the novelty phase and reached the practical phase. This is the phase where owners not paying attention will start falling behind. Now is the time to create a strategy and a plan for a possible future purchase.
How do I do that?
Answering these basic questions will give you a start.
- Personnel – Are your employees capable of using the required technology? What skills will they need? Who should be trained?
- Financial – When and how will you be able to afford a printer? Do the numbers (profit, breakeven, margins) show it can pay for itself?
- Product – How will your current or future product line be improved by a printer? Do you have the demand to justify the cost? Is your current equipment enough?
- Technology – Will it integrate into your existing technology? Do you need a new digital system(s)?
Digital manufacturing and factories are the future. Owners who make the transition smartly will benefit from the promises that 3D printers will eventually keep. It is time to start thinking about how you will fit them into your company. A good, well thought out plan will make sure you do not miss your window of opportunity.
You know, like the guy who said, “Computers? I don’t see why anyone would ever want one of those in his or her home.”