Additive Manufacturing, which encompasses Industrial 3D Printing, is also one of the technologies included within the Industrial Revolution 4.0. Unlike AI, IoT, Digital Platforms, Robotics and Autonomous Vehicles, Additive Manufacturing is not based on the integration and leverage of pre-existing technologies, but rather it is a brand new independently developed technology.
It is also characterized by being a truly disruptive technology, which means that once a certain degree of technological maturity and profitability is reached, Additive Manufacturing has the potential to alter the production and even the whole business model. Additive Manufacturing has the potential to completely alter the design and development of new products, their manufacture and their transportation as we understand them today. With 3D Printing, production can be carried out in micro factories closer to the buyer and long range transport will be concentrated on raw materials a short range transport to delivery to final users.
3D PRINTING DEFINITION
3D Printing is the process of building products additively, layer by layer, instead of by traditional manufacturing methods like press-shaping or moulding. 3D printing uses precise geometrical representations like CAD and digital 3D models, advanced modelling technology, and automated addition of liquid molecules or powder grains mainly of plastic, ceramics and metal, fused together through an increasing variety of layering techniques.
3D printing began in the 1980s with a polymer-based technology called rapid prototyping. Its goal was to build a prototype of a particular part before investing in expensive mould for a production line.
ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING DEFINITION
Additive Manufacturing (A.M.) is a broader concept. It first includes the processes of 3D model design and data transfer that requires constant innovations in computer-aided design and computational power. Additive manufacturing also includes at its core 3D Printing technology and post printing processes of material removal, object finishing and printer resetting.
ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING EVOLUTION AND ADVANTAGES
The element that defines the evolution and adoption on an industrial scale of Additive Manufacturing is the engineering of new materials. Present expansion of AM is expected to continue due to the constant increase of materials that can be handled. A wide range of new plastics have already been developed, along with techniques and printers able to use ceramics, glass, cement and even advanced materials like graphene. 3D Printing can also manage food, living cells and human tissue.
Additive Manufacturing has already started to be economically profitable for small batch and custom production that complements industrial mass production. Current mass production is based on equipment and processes that generate economies of scale, so the higher the production, the cheaper the unit cost of an item.
Mass production efficiency has the downside of offering no or limited customisation; Items with a below-the-threshold demand that do not justify mass production, are either produced in small batches at higher costs or, simply not produced on an industrial scale. This generates an unsatisfied demand, along with a customer behaviour prone to disposal rather than maintenance. Additive Manufacturing is already producing rapid prototyping and production of highly specialized parts and replacements, as well as products that are difficult or expensive to get through mass production.
CETMO Analysis, adapted from McKinsey & Company (1)
Some present examples of industrial uses of Additive Manufacturing include the repair of burning heads in gas turbines with a time reduction from 44 to 4 weeks, fuel nozzles 25% lighter and five times more durable, metal brackets for aerospace industry with a 50% reduction in weight, plus industrial filters, hearing aids, healthcare equipment and prosthetics.
In the near future, once Additive Manufacturing reaches an efficiency threshold efficiency, it will progressively address the costs and limitations of transport and storage generated by mass production. Present industrial manufacturing produces in centralised locations, with large volumes that require costs of storage and warehousing, inventory and transport. Indeed, AM can be done in small batches or even single units, in proximity to the final user, even on user’s premises.
Considering these factors, it is clear that AM has the potential to generate substantial cost savings in areas like product research, development, testing, and production, packaging, storage, as well as completely changing shipping, transport and the overall value-chain.
AM already offers Passenger Transport value creation opportunities in spare parts supply and warehousing. Regarding Freight Transport and Logistics, AM represents less of an opportunity, and more of a potential threat, as the whole concept of product transportation and distribution could be completely altered.
ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING EFFECTS ON DISPARITY
The disruptive potential of AM also generates important opportunities for developing countries. AM allows for a single machine to produce a variety of products, which could lead to multi-purpose factories, broadening manufacturing to areas with no, or limited, pre-existing industrial base. AM offers the possibility to manufacture customised products with just a fraction of the investment required for a traditional factory, this has already been applied in India for the construction of automobile parts.
Additionally, the 3D design behind AM, and the printer applications, can be transferred by way of the internet, thus removing technological barriers and facilitating innovation, creativity, de-centralisation and democratization of production.
AM has proven potential for more sustainable and resource efficient manufacturing, due to its ability to produce lighter, more durable products with less material used per unit and also with far less waste, to the point that it is estimated that by 2050 AM could reduce the consumption of energy globally by 27%(2).
Additive Manufacturing is still not a mature technology, it is advancing quickly and already has industrial and commercial uses. What makes this Key Technology worthy of scrutiny is its enormous potential effects on production, transport, consumption and the ability to reset whole economies, as well as generating new ways of creating economic and social growth in all kinds of countries.
McKinsey & Company. Ashutosh, Hastings, Murnane, Neuhaus, Automation in Logistics: Big Opportunity, Bigger Uncertainty, 2019. link
Industrial 3D Printing added to advances in new materials, can represent a true new form of industrial production, significantly reducing the need for freight transportation thus changing shipping patterns and business relationships between suppliers and customers. It also may completely change distribution and retail sale for certain types of products.
Changes in Transported Products: Additive Manufacturing, by not requiring industrial facilities, allows the manufacture of objects and components much closer to the user. Therefore, the long-distance transport will be oriented to the raw material of polymers and other additive materials and the short distance to the delivery of the product.
Partially Meshed Production and Logistics: for many product categories, some parts of the “just-in-time” production cycle can be completed in distribution centres or in stages after the origin (factory), even near, or at the customer facility, thanks to the ability to generate parts, spare parts, etc. at any stage of the cycle (including transport). Transport will start without having to wait for large batches, reducing the total delivery time.
Integration of Production during Maritime Transport: in the case of maritime transport, the production itself of certain products can occur in the course of the voyage itself (production cycle products that need a lot of speed, or that help reduce production time to reduce the total time of the full product cycle). The design of the product and its entire production cycle will be modified so that transport is a related part in production.
New Types of Commercial Agreements and After-Sales Services: The possibility of industrial-scale 3D production near, or at the same facilities of the customer, will open the door to separate agreements for full and partial production, raw material supply, technical support and patents.
Reduction of Urgent Shipments generated by lack of spare parts, or very urgent parts, due to in-house or near –in-house quick customised production.
Change and New Roles: Operators themselves will be able to manufacture many of the required equipment on premises and near-premises. Also, manufactures may continue manufacturing as delegated on the operator’s premises. There also exists the possibility of new companies specialised in the quality and know-how of 3D Printing being outsourced by the operators, while original suppliers will become the providers of patents and original know-how.
Increased Operator Autonomy: 3D Printing will reduce commercial dependence on part suppliers as operating companies will be capable of manufacturing parts themselves or have it outsourced in their own premises.
Accelerated Spare Parts Production: AM allows the manufacturing of spare parts on site and instantly, without depending on suppliers and improving the speed of response, should greatly facilitate the maintenance of facilities and vehicles.
Reduction of Urgent Shipments similar case to Freight Transport
Sources: CETMO and “Impacte de les KETs en la digitalització dels diferents àmbits del transport”, CENIT-CINESI – December 2020