We’ve just come back from the RAPID + TCT 2017 conference this week, a platform for specialists from various organizations to showcase their latest applications in the 3D printing space.1
|It’s always exciting to see how far the technology has come, even in just the first half of 2017.
We’re going to take a look at recent developments in 3D printing (popularly known as additive manufacturing, or AM), using Deloitte’s AM framework (see figure 1), from our report ‘3D opportunity: Additive manufacturing paths to performance, innovation, and growth’.2
Figure 1: Framework for understanding Additive Manufacturing paths and value
Source: Mark Cotteleer, Jim Joyce, “3D opportunity: Additive manufacturing paths to performance, innovation, and growth”, January 17, 2014, https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/deloitte-review/issue-14/dr14-3d-opportunity.html
Let’s examine the four tactical paths for companies to deploy AM technologies across their businesses, and recent trends driving new developments in each. AM technologies as such have evolved quite a bit and so have their applications. In this article, we’ll focus on new end-use applications using existing 3D printing technologies.
Path I: Stasis
In Path I of the framework, companies employ AM technologies to improve value delivery for current products within existing supply chains.3 Typical technologies in Path I include tooling, modeling, short-run production, and prototyping.
3D printing has been in the prototyping space for quite some time. Prototypes for fit and assembly accounted for the second largest AM technology (16.2 percent) used by companies in 2016, after functional parts, which accounted for 32.5 percent.4 However, the technology has moved from producing simple prototypes for jewelry manufacturers, to creating complex lifelike models of newborns (including models of working organs) as announced in March 2017.5 Because these models are so complex and sophisticated, they could not be created earlier, either traditionally or additively. The models could very well serve to train surgeons in performing life-saving procedures with increased accuracy and understanding.6
Path II: Supply Chain Evolution
Path II of the framework involves companies benefiting from the economies of scale offered by AM technologies in order to transform their supply chain for their existing products.7 Within path II, AM enables companies to reduce minimum efficient scale in production locations, alter traditional supply chains, and reduce working capital requirements.
The US military may no longer be limited to 3D printing only medical and surgical instruments on-demand on the battlefield. In March 2017, the US Army announced that it has been successful in 3D printing most of the parts of a grenade launcher fondly called RAMBO (Rapid Additively Manufactured Ballistics Ordnance). This development illustrates the potential of AM to build actual weapon systems with robust material properties.8
In yet another example, researchers from the Northwestern University have developed the ability to 3D print structures ranging from small tools to big buildings with dust from the Moon or Mars. This advancement, which enables manufacturing at point-of-use, could support long-term efforts to build life sustenance beyond Earth.9
Path III: Product Evolution
Path III of the framework enables companies to benefit from AM technologies through product innovation and development.10 There has been a lot of fascinating growth in this path in industries like medical devices and real-estate.
In one example, University of California researchers announced in early April 2017 that they have developed ‘MucoJet’, a 3D printed vaccine administration device that could lead to needle-free vaccinations.11 This device has the ability to shoot a pressurized stream of vaccination into the cheek tissue, removing the need for injections. The exterior compartment, comprising water, is 3D printed from a biocompatible and waterproof plastic resin. The vaccine (in the inner compartment) mixes with the water, and the force from the pressure generated enables the vaccine to enter the patient’s tissue.12
Another AM application in the real-estate industry is its use for building skyscrapers. In March 2017, UAE-based construction company Cazza announced plans to build the world’s first 3D printed skyscraper in Dubai, using ‘crane printing’ technology. The technology can be implemented with existing cranes with printer units attached and used typically for structures above 80 meters.13 Such an arrangement could facilitate intricate designs and customization in high-rise buildings (for the entire building or a specific unit), typically difficult through traditional construction techniques.14
Path IV: Business Model Evolution
Path IV involves companies changing both product and supply chains in order to achieve new business models, that either creates new markets or impairs competitors’ ability to compete.15
Shoe companies were earlier using additive manufacturing largely for prototyping purposes. One important shift from that path is that of Adidas; the company plans to use 3D printing for mass production of their final products opening up opportunities for mass customization as well. Adidas, in collaboration with Carbon, announced in April 2017 that they are using AM to manufacture the sole from a vat of liquid polymer resin, and shaped using ultraviolet light.16
In another example, 3D printing is helping low economy African nations such as Sudan to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. A 3D print lab has been set up by Not Impossible Labs, which fabricates on-demand low-cost and customized prosthetic limbs on-site, using a crowd-sourcing model.16
Overall, the use of AM technologies have moved to more complex, mature, and real-life applications across industries. At the same time, the AM framework often continues to serve as a lynchpin for companies to evaluate the four paths for deploying AM technologies. These tactical paths could act as a reference system or ready reckoner for businesses to frame their additive manufacturing investment choices.
Excited to see what new developments are in store for additive manufacturing by the end of the year. Stay tuned!
1Rapid3D Event, http://www.rapid3devent.com/, accessed April 6, 2017