Yes, you can now print your own doorknob or even house, and within the next few years, the technology known as 3D printing will completely alter the manufacturing landscape forever as this technology becomes ubiquitous. 3D printing allows industries the freedom to design products previously thought of as uneconomical and unfeasible using traditional methods.
Coupled with additive manufacturing which removes the constraints of traditional methods, firms can now produce at high speed in any quantity in a Just-In-Time (JIT) fashion, eliminating the high costs of logistics and inventory, and providing room for mass customisation. From an economics perspective, with the advancement of the technology in the coming years and falling prices, production of goods will be carried out close to the point of consumption. This has great implications for supply chain management as the demand and supply can be in sync. Cars can be printed into being to a point of consumption the next day and eliminate the storage stage.
Some key industries that will be changed by 3D printing include:
Aerospace/Defense – GE predicts 50% of the jet engines will be made using 3D printers within the next few years. In addition, think of weaponry, tanks, and aircraft, missiles, bullets, all manufactured with this technology, which opens up possibilities not just for conventional armies but terrorists as well.
Healthcare – Currently, more than 90% of hearing aid shells are 3D printed. Living tissues, organs and other body parts will definitely become a reality soon enough.
Manufacturing – Shoe manufacturers like Nike and Adidas are currently adopting the approach of manufacturing out of prototype models and distributing to other countries thereafter. With 3D printing, the CAD design files of the shoes can be sent directly to the countries where the goods will be made locally thus eliminating the reliance on the global supply chain altogether. Countries that have adopted the low-cost model of mass manufacturing will have to shift their thinking or risk being made obsolete by this new model, given that the speed of changing manufacturing design, applying intellectual property rules and innovation elements, along with environmental friendliness can be achieved quickly with 3D printing.
While the hype is currently on 3D printing, industry watchers and business leaders are already casting their eyes on 4D printing, which incorporates the dimension of time and space, and the ability to alter the three dimensions in some manner. The military is already experimenting with using the 4th D of altering the colour of their jets to provide camouflage.
While this is a currently developing area, it behooves executives in their respective industries to find an entry point and step into blue-ocean territory before it starts turning red, just like 3D printing. Blue-ocean strategy is all about looking toward the horizon, discovering what others have yet to discover, or find potential in areas that others have yet to do so, get in and milk the opportunity for all its worth. Keep your eyes on this technology because it may well affect a myriad of issues, from the creation of jobs, to how education in engineering is structured!
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