3D Printing – Evolution Rather than Revolution – Part Two

Here are four different ways to evaluate the future of 3D printing.

In the first part of this blog series, I explained three concepts that crystallized what 3D printing can and cannot offer. Ultimately, this also dictates the industries and scenarios where 3D printing and rapid prototyping are used in a complementary role.

To distinguish between realistic and over-hyped applications for the years ahead, we want to investigate and evaluate the potential of current applications. Here are four scenarios exemplifying where 3D printing changes the world and where it does not:

 3D printing is expensive but brings great advantages.

Forty thousand injectors for jet engines, which GE Aviation is planning to print annually starting in 2018, are a good starting point.

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The design freedom offered by 3D printing can outweigh high costs when advantages are significant.

The inner form of these engines makes them fairly difficult to produce with conventional methods. Until recently, they had to be assembled using more than 20 parts.

3D-printed jet engines save 19 percent-worth of kerosene and are 25 percent lighter. These two benefits far outweigh the high manufacturing costs. This is why mass manufacturing is worthwhile in this case.

Conclusion: The design freedom offered by 3D printing can outweigh high costs when the advantages are significant enough. This new technique helped overcome existing manufacturing limitations, which enables the application of more advanced improvements in technologies in the future.


In 3D printing, manufacturing slightly different parts is almost the same as producing exact copies. This simplifies the customization of products: for example, 3D-printed case parts, such as mobile phone cases with the name of the owner or a relief on the back.

In this case, 3D printing offers an additional and unique product characteristic. Another field of application for customized, printed parts is medical care. Nowadays dental bridges and dental crowns are 3D printed on an industrial scale.

Conclusion: For 3D printing, the batch size is a negligible factor. The scaling effect, which makes large-series productions cheaper than small ones, does not apply in this case.

Consumers want individualized products and 3D printing fulfills their expectations. And so, through exploiting this technology, entirely new business models are created.

 Simplified logistics

Boeing maintains an immense factory in Everett, Washington, where the company’s commercial aircrafts are assembled.

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3D printing offers an additional and unique product characteristic.

If a part is missing because a supplier cannot or will not deliver, manufacturing comes to a complete halt – you cannot simply put a Boeing 767 aside and start assembling the next one.

For this application, it makes sense to print parts – up to a certain size and safety relevance – directly on-site, as a backup option.

They will be far more expensive than the parts from the supplier, but preventing the complete halt of an assembly process is a priority.

Conclusion: If logistics are more expensive than the 3D-printing surcharge, or when the supply chain needs to be shortened, great opportunities arise.

 The noodle printer

In 2015, the noodle manufacturer Barilla attracted attention with a 3D printer designed to print noodles. Given the long printing times, it makes little sense to print each noodle separately.

On the other hand, one can exploit the benefits of 3D printing by printing individualized pasta shaping discs for a noodle press. As described, mass production with 3D printing makes no sense –  individualization, however, does.

Conclusion: You should carefully think through how to customize your products with 3D printing. This new technology requires – and enables – new construction approaches and design options. However, these must first be recognized and implemented.

Supply chain transformation through 3D printing

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3D printing will revolutionize certain areas while barely affecting others.

Designers have to reassess their current approaches to optimally employ 3D printing. The technology frees you from the constraints of classic production and allows you to first look for the optimal solution.

In the second step, you can decide whether the compromises forced by conventional manufacturing technologies are acceptable or if you want to switch to 3D printing without compromising anything.

This much is undeniable: 3D printing will revolutionize certain areas while barely, if at all, affecting others.

It can certainly not replace the expertise of specialized suppliers. The supply chain will continue to exist for a long time, but – in some points – it will change its look.

With that in mind, are 3D-printing processes a part of your supply chain operations? If not, should they be? goldbrown2

This article first appeared on All Things Supply Chain and was republished with permission.

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3D Printing And The New Economics Of Manufacturing

3D Printing Is About To Change The World Forever

This 3D-Printing Technology Is All Science, No Fiction

Ralf Steck is a mechanical engineer, specialized freelance journalist, author, moderator and speaker. He blogs at http://www.EngineeringSpot.de about software and hardware for digital product development.

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