Small Business Brief


What Is the Future of 3D Printing in Manufacturing?

The 3D printer industry has topped $7 billion. You might think that’s not too shabby for a technology that’s renowned for making plastic novelties. The 3D printer is so much more than that though.

In fact, one of the trends driving the 3D printing boom is its applications in industry. The medical field is advancing biotechnology with it. The construction and real estate sectors are experimenting with 3D-printed buildings.

Perhaps 3D printing’s biggest successes, though, are in another industry. The use of 3D printing in manufacturing is set to revolutionize the way almost everything is made.

Here’s a glimpse into the future of 3D printing for manufacturing.

3D Printing in Manufacturing Speeds Up

One of the biggest breakthroughs of 2019 was the increasing speed of 3D printers. It used to be that it might take weeks or days to print a product or part. It depended on the complexity of the item being printed.

Flash-forward to today, and advances in stereolithography are reducing printing times even more. Now, instead of waiting days for a prototype, designers may only need to wait for a few hours.

A team at MIT managed to create a system that was three times faster than current industrial models. What’s more is that printing speeds are expected to speed up even more in the next five years.

What does this mean for manufacturers? Quite simply, it means advances to “just in time” production. Reducing the time to make products means manufacturers can fill even the most last-minute orders.

That also means that the costs of warehousing and storage may come down too. Since manufacturers won’t need to keep as much stock on hand, they won’t need as much warehouse space. In turn, lean manufacturer will get even leaner.

It also means that 3D printing mass production will soon be possible. Printers have been limited by speed and materials, but that’s starting to change. Industrial printers will soon be able to churn out new products faster than ever.

More Precision Allows for Greater Customization

Another reason 3D printing production works in manufacturing is that it allows for customization.

Manufacturers had to use large production runs to justify the costs of having molds made up. This often meant limitations in terms of colors, sizes, and more.

With 3D printing, minor adjustments can be made to the design files. You can then print a completely customized version of almost any product.

Better control of materials will allow for a greater degree of customization as well. Scientists have managed to precisely create droplets in a jet of liquid. This, in turn, gave them more control over size and location in a 3D space.

This is great news for anyone in manufacturing. It’s particularly helpful for those in additives manufacturing. The method allows designers to make changes to a project on the fly, without constantly fine-tuning the printers.

The Savings Keep Adding up

We mentioned the cost savings from just-in-time production and lower warehousing fees. Manufacturers will save far more on other aspects of their business with 3D printing in the mix.

Prototyping is a great example. It used to be that prototypes were expensive, costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars. With a 3D printer, like the ones used by Hidaka USA, prototypes can be made for just a fraction of that cost.

Prototypes can also be made in short order. Thus, 3D printing allows designers and engineers to spend more time testing prototypes. They can also make more versions of a prototype to discover which one is truly best.

This means that many products will see improvements. Auto manufacturers, for example, will be able to test more designs. They may be able to discover which designs are truly the most aerodynamic or fuel efficient.

Other Costs Come Down

Next, there’s the cost of machinery and labor. Today’s manufacturers often need several different, specialized machines to make their products. With the 3D printer, they’ll only need the printer itself, along with software and computers for designing.

The 3D printer is capable of printing many different products, and it’s possible to switch between designs at almost any time. Human intervention is minimal, and the factory “line” may be simplified.

This can also boost a manufacturer’s savings. Equipment, maintenance, and even labor costs could come down.

Finally, the manufacturing costs of products may also fall. This has been the case with 3D printed houses, which cost just a few thousand dollars to produce.

A World of Materials

Plastics are by far the most common material to use in 3D printers, but that may be changing. Metal powders can also be used, and metal is poised to overtake plastic.

There are many other options for 3D printing though. Today, there are hundreds of materials available for 3D printers. These include:

  • Ceramics
  • Leather
  • Rubber
  • Glass

Some 3D printers even handle food items, such as plant proteins and chocolate.

With so much choice, 3D manufacturing is set for industry-wide adoption. Everything from plates to clothing and everything between can be 3D printed today.

What’s more is that 3D printers are more materially efficient than other manufacturing processes. That means they produce much less waste. More of the material is used to create new items.

This is good news for the manufacturing industry as they look for ways to reduce costs and their ecological footprint at the same time.

A Bright Future for 3D Printing

From this brief survey, it’s safe to say that the future of 3D printing in manufacturing seems quite promising. Advancements in speed, material use, and more will make this must-have technology.

If you have an idea for a product, then 3D printing manufacturing could help you turn it into reality. To help get your business idea up off the ground, take a look at some of our other informative guides. With the right tips in hand, you’ll be well on your way to manufacturing success.