Could the piqued interest in additive manufacturing persist after the pandemic? Some signs say “Yes”!
During the initial stage of the pandemic, something fundamentally changed the view of 3D printing technology by many manufacturers. The immediate effect was a severe disruption of normal supply chains.
Disrupted supply chains was literally catastrophic for many businesses, simply because of the long-term focus on efficiency. In order to achieve the lowest possible build costs, many manufacturers over decades gradually moved to a “just in time” mode, where they would build products as they were ordered.
This approach required a reliable stream of supplies coming from OEMs, paced to match the incoming product orders. Just in time processing works really well, and is extremely efficient, but as we have seen, breaks down nearly instantly once the supply chains are broken.
And that’s exactly what happened during the early phases of the pandemic. Manufacturers were suddenly without parts for their assemblies, and had to shut down operations.
In some cases, however, a solution was discovered with 3D printing: 3D printer installations could, for certain types of parts, quickly produce moderate volumes of substitute part flows.
For many companies, this was a revelation: 3D printing had previously been viewed as “something for prototyping, not manufacturing”. Now their minds were changed, having seen the ability of the technology to meet their production needs.
Combining that with a now-present focus on flexibility as well as efficiency, some are using 3D printing more than previously.
The question in my mind has been whether this phenomenon would continue after the pandemic.
Now as we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I’ve been seeing a pattern in news releases lately.
Many have been announcing that Company X has acquired a quantity of Manufacturer Y’s 3D printers. Normally this isn’t news: 3D printer manufacturers naturally do sell 3D printers; that’s their business, literally.
But in these latter stages of the pandemic there are some notable sales of equipment underway.
There was an announcement from Sintavia, a Florida-based additive manufacturing service focusing on aerospace and defense, that they’ve just acquired three new GE Additive Arcam A2X EBM metal 3D printers.
Another announcement came from PrintParts, an up-and-coming New York-based additive manufacturing service. They’ve contracted with EnvisionTEC to acquire eight more One cDLM 3D printers to be used in an array for volume production (see image at top).
And there are other similar announcements.
The point here is that 3D printer manufacturers are indeed selling equipment, sometimes in good quantities. The buyers are evidence that the need for 3D printing is increasing, and I suspect some of that demand is due to the new additive attitude that’s developed during the pandemic.