Engaged Manufacturing: 3D Printing Scenarios
To develop a series of future scenarios for 3D printing, an extensive literature review has been carried out, alongside a series of exploratory interviews with industrial experts.
The findings of this research have allowed five scenarios to be developed, encompassing common themes and covering a wide range of proposals.
By carrying out a structured literature review, covering academic, mainstream, media and practitioner publications, current knowledge in future predictions for the future of 3D printing has been collated and synthesized. To add depth and clarity to this information, a series of exploratory interviews have been undertaken with expert users based in a variety of industries.
Structured literature review
The structure shown below was followed in gathering literature. The structure searched various synonyms for 3D Printing (“Additive Manufacturing”,“Rapid Manufacturing” and “3D Printing”) with the term "Scenario" through six databases (Emerald Insight, Science Direct, Web of Science, Scopus, ABI ProQuest and EBSCOhost).
Almost 1500 unique publications were found, and coded against the following criteria:
- Manufacturing operation type: the scale of the manufacturing operation making the product
- Manufacturing distribution: the size, spread and location of the manufacturing centres
- Order Penetration Point (OPP): a measure of the stage in the products design cycle where the customer becomes involved, ranging from early in the design stage to after manufacture.
This process allowed the commonalities and differences between each of the proposals to be identified and scored, ultimately leading to the development of the five scenarios that the project proposes.
Future scenarios for 3D Printing
The following scenarios have been developed, in prediction the future developments in 3D printing:
1. Personal manufacturing
With prices falling and capabilities improving, 3D Printers have become commonplace throughout the home and office. Reliability of the machines, standardization and product quality has improved to the point where 3D printers are ubiquitous, producing near-finished products using multiple materials at the touch of a button. Driven by increased demand, software has been developed and its use simplified so advanced skills in CAD are no longer necessary to produce 3D models for printing. With and intuitive, user-friendly interface, models can be developed or produced from scratch easily. Designs are also easily bought and exchanged online, for direct printing or customization by the end user. Typically, products such as small consumer goods, personal electronics and fashion items are now made at home, rather than bought on the high-street.
2. Retail manufacturing
3D Printers are a common sight on the high street. 3D-Print shops have been established in retail parks, town centres, and community locations, in many cases established by 2D printing retailers. Designs can be brought into the store or submitted electronically for manufacture, with staff available to advise on factors such as the design’s manufacturing suitability, and the most suitable processes: minor design changes or optimisation can be done at the store. Retailers have also used the capabilities of 3D Printing to extend current ranges of products to include personalized goods. Customers can have components with simple customizations made while they wait, with parts produced to their design in store, although larger, more complex products sometimes still have a short waiting period for manufacture. Typical applications include manufacturing of bespoke housings for consumer electronics, tailored clothing and footwear, and the production of personal items such as memorabilia and collectables.
3. Bureau Manufacturing
Building on its 20th Century Roots, the level of technical skill needed to operate a high quality 3D printer, and the high level of design skills required to produce a working product, have meant that Additive Manufacturing has remained a specialist industry. Prototype production is still common, and improvements in the technology and the materials have allowed these prototypes to become more functional, but high costs mean the technology has remained infeasible as a full-scale production process. The majority of the established additive manufacturing specialist were established either from research centres, or from more traditional precision engineering companies, and are therefore distributed regionally.
4. Factory manufacturing
Additive Manufacturing has been adopted in high volume production in a factory environment. The extent of the use of 3D Printing in the process is highly product dependent. The simplest of applications is the introduction of high-speed 3D printers, complementing traditional machines in a production line, allowing products to be customized as the line runs. At the most advances end of the scale complete 3D Printing factories, where there are no longer traditional machines in use have emerged. 3D Printing has a number of advantages, including “over the air” updates of products without any need to re-tool, meaning new editions and variants of products can be introduced simply by clicking a button. This allows manufacturers to correct any problems in a product and to introduce upgrades very quickly. “Design for Additive Manufacture” (DfAM) advancement had allowed new innovations in product design which could not be achieved with other technologies. Products have been improved, and can be personalized, making use of the unique nature of the process and the geometric freedoms this allows.
5. Mobile manufacturing
Making use of 3D Printing’s ability to produce a large range of products using standard equipment and a limited number of raw materials, mobile manufacturing systems have emerged. In specialist applications these systems are either used to manufacture parts in transit, or, depending on the application, the equipment is transported to the point of use and products are manufactured on site. The construction industry has adopted this approach for the restriction-free capabilities of additive processes, allowing geometrically complex, optimised structures, which can be built quickly, produced directly from digitally created designs. For smaller scale products, some online retailers (such as Amazon), and a number of third-party logistics (3PL) companies are using mobile manufacturing to reduce shipping times, reduce stock holding, and to add value to the logistics network, creating products from raw materials whilst they are in transit to the customer.