The first ever electronic printer was the EP-101, invented by Epson and was sold in masses in 1968. 50 years ahead, we now have the privilege of 3D printing, which opens a whole new realm to businesses. Fernando Hernandez, European MD at XYZprinting, here speaks to CEO Today about the true prospects of 3D printing in the business world and what the future looks like for this creative medium.
The desktop 3D printing revolution has begun; over the past year worldwide shipments have increased by 34%, making it the largest growth area in the industry, and the term has become an established part of many people’s vocabulary. As a result, providers have directed their efforts towards making the technology increasingly sophisticated, easy to use and affordable.
For this development to be sustained, and the full potential of 3D printing to be realised, it’s crucial that UK businesses develop a comprehensive understanding of how 3D printers could revolutionise businesses’ processes, regardless of the industry they’re in. All without breaking the bank and causing them to tear their hair out over excessively complex processes.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at five ways we can expect 3D printers to dominate business processes in the very near future.
When 3D printing was first conceptualised, a single printer would set you back tens of thousands of pounds; now they can be purchased for as little as £229, putting them well within the reach of small businesses across the country.
As a result, 3D printing is now vastly more affordable for SMEs looking to create prototypes than employing a third-party manufacturer. This empowers entrepreneurs to regain control and develop prototypes in a matter of hours at the fraction of the cost. Particularly as the process enables design flaws to be identified before the product is even printed, reducing the length of the development cycle, and empowering SMEs to get the product to market more quickly.
- Design and personalisation
3D printing was traditionally used to create plastic and metal items. However, it’s now possible to print in a broad range of materials, including food products, and, to a growing extent, fabrics, widening the number of industries capable of transferring their production to 3D printing.
This has the potential to completely revolutionise industries such as the textile and fashion businesses. Perhaps you notice a jacket you like the look of, but the material’s not for you, the colour isn’t what you’re after, or it doesn’t work to your dimensions. 3D printing would allow the manufacturer to easily, and relatively inexpensively, create a customised product just for you in a matter of minutes. This is because, unlike traditional manufacturing processes, 3D printing doesn’t demand the re-tooling of machinery – instead simply requiring the uploading of a tweaked design, meaning individual products can be produced rather than hundreds if not thousands of the same design. By vastly cutting down the overproduction of items, small companies can offer products and enter markets otherwise unaffordable.
- Always in stock
Similarly, the ability to produce products or spare parts locally and individually is another way we can expect to see small businesses capitalise on desktop 3D printers. For example, reducing shipping costs and offshore production costs means that businesses such as garages can afford to print individual spare parts as needed, vastly reducing the waste and repair time and providing a much more streamlined service. Soon, even office equipment could be more affordable if printed on-site.
- New horizons
For sectors as diverse as manufacturing companies and healthcare professionals, the most exciting quality of 3D printers is their ability to create shapes otherwise impossible to produce. Moulding, drilling and binding materials and other manufacturing processes simply cannot make certain shapes which additive manufacturing masters. We’ve now seen surgeons using an MRI scan to 3D print a copy of a toddler’s heart, to help them understand how to operate effectively. Shapes only available through 3D printing may be also lighter, more effective or more efficient than those created by traditional processes.
- Bringing production into the home
In our world of ‘next day delivery’, consumers are expecting goods to be in their hands within shorter and shorter periods. One of the most exciting opportunities – and most interesting revolution on the horizon for small businesses – is for brands to offer their products as downloadable 3D designs. SMEs can embrace the rise of affordable domestic 3D printers and enable their customers to access products within hours, without them even having to leave their home. Importantly, such designs can also be easily personalised.
Such a move will change the world of consumer goods manufacturing as we know it, and have a huge impact on retail and delivery industries. It’s not hard to imagine companies like Amazon shifting towards a marketplace for people to print a whole range of purchases at home, which would completely upturn its existing system of warehouses and delivery services.
These are just five ways in which SMEs can capitalise on the rise of affordable 3D printing. The breadth of possibility for creating novel objects quickly, cheaply and efficiently means that innovative SMEs are increasingly capable of finding countless other uses for the technology. Once the reserve of sci-fi fantasies, 3D printing is already making waves in a whole range of businesses, and the only way the industry is going is up.