The manufacturing industry has always been personally influenced by the technological developments of its time. From the arrival of coal and steam as new sources of energy, the gin and its impact on cloth manufacturers, and therefore the production line for Ford, each has altered and benefitted the industry. As we enter Industry 4.0, a replacement batch of technology is shaping how, and the way fast, we make goods. 3D printing is one such technology that's providing tangible benefits to those that implement it.

Desktop 3D printing, where users can design and print right at their desks or on the factory floor, has seen tremendous growth within the past several years, moving from strictly prototyping to actual production. The technology has opened huge possibilities for manufacturers, including quicker time to plug, a discount in costs, and an overall improvement in factory productivity.

Tight Profit Margins involves Ingenuity

The economy is robust, and makers are increasingly looking to technology, like reliable and accessible desktop 3D printers, to drive efficiency and speed up the manufacturing process. Supported public data sets from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and manufacturing industry economic data, it is often estimated that the cost of operating within the manufacturing industry within the US is $4,258,341 per minute, with a margin of profit of only $22,480 each minute.

With these numbers in mind, a 3D printer can have a meaningful impact on an outsized industry if it can save a moment, an hour, a week, or a month in gained productivity. While the value savings for printing one prototype part in-house might not appear to be a big cost-saving option, each opportunity to save lots of time or money will add up swiftly, especially for large-scale manufacturing provisions.

Tools, Jigs, Fixtures and Beyond

Many manufacturers utilizing desktop 3D printing on factory floors have already seen production efficiency increase. Traditionally, 3D printing has been related to creating prototypes, but it's proven invaluable for creating custom tools, jigs, fixtures, and other manufacturing aids and parts.

Volkswagen Autoeuropa, the factory liable for manufacturing Volkswagen models like the Scirocco and Sharan, produces approximately 100,000 cars annually and has recently brought desktop 3D printers into its workflow. The corporation previously outsourced its tools, jigs, and fixtures, and sometimes saw an impression on its production as part delivery took several weeks. Now with 3D printers on the factory floor, Volkswagen Autoeuropa has seen a savings of 91 percent in tool development costs and reduced development time by 95 percent.

Stateside, American factories also are reaping the advantages of desktop 3D printing. Jabil, one among the most important manufacturing service providers within the world, overcame production challenges by incorporating 3D printers into the workflow at its Auburn Hills facility. Additionally to the long wait time for normal tools and completed parts to be delivered by external suppliers, Auburn Hills engineers also often needed to supply one-off products and tools that were unnecessarily expensive to outsource. Through 3D printing, Jabil Auburn Hills found the answer to those challenges. With the power to model and print fixtures and tools quickly within the factory, Jabil engineers found the merchandise testing phase much easier when ensuring quality and part performance. Within hours, the engineers were ready to create a working and validated assembly to present to the customer, a process that might have previously taken the team months to finish.

Distributed Manufacturing and Desktop 3D Printers

Desktop 3D printing is additionally poised to impact the manufacturing industry’s business model. Within the past, the foremost cost-effective solution was a centralized factory or warehouse where labor and land were cheapest. But industry leaders, like Amazon, are moving to a more distributed operation – building several small regional distribution sectors and factories. This enables for a discount in shipping costs and expedites the products to customers because more facilities are spread across the country, instead of counting on one location to handle each inbound request. Desktop 3D printing is perfectly positioned to possess a big impact on this new business model because it can create customized replacement parts, including a smaller supply chain network, greatly reducing bottom-line costs for the manufacturer.

Manufacturers have barely begun to realize the truth benefits of desktop 3D printing within the enterprise. With each new advancement in 3D printing hardware, software and materials, more and more organizations will undoubtedly cash in of the technology to scale back the time and price it takes parts to succeed in the factory floor—which successively, will positively impact rock bottom line. While 3D printing should be in its infancy within the timeline of producing technology, its influence on the industry can already be felt.