We're reading a post by Joel Hans, managing editor of Manufacturing.net where he postulates the future of 3D printing in manufacturing plants. This got us thinking about manufacturing versus personal 3D printing.
Fabbaloo readers are quite familiar with personal 3D printing and sometimes wonder why this amazing technology isn't used more by manufacturing plants. "Bring back jobs from Asia" is the standard cry.
It turns out that 3D printing is in fact used in North American manufacturing - and it also isn't used.
3D printing is used by manufacturing to produce rapid prototypes of complex or important items in an iterative manner. Test the function or look and feel of an object before you commit the huge expense of manufacturing.
3D printing is also used to produce niche production parts, say a very complex and ultra-lightweight flange for a fighter jet, for example. It's also used to produce low-quantity (1 to 1,000, typically) production runs of unique items.
It isn't used to produce mass quantities of any item.
Why? Because it's just too slow and expensive. Personal 3D printer owners know this. While they are amazed at their ability to produce a terrific custom object at home, they are generally not pleased when the print takes 27.5 hours to complete. Considering the time to print, you simply can't get the efficiency out of your investment in the 3D printer as compared to mass manufacturing processes.
Meanwhile, modern mass manufacturing techniques can rapidly produce high-quality objects at very low cost after you've invested dollars to set up the manufacturing line.
There's a trade-off: uniqueness versus quantity. If you require a lot of anything, prototype it until it's right and then have it mass manufactured. If you need a small number of items, consider 3D printing them.
Personal 3D printer owners usually require only one copy.
Image Credit: John Lloyd