Businesses in all sectors “must wake up to the huge potential of 3D printing or risk losing out”, said Dr Susanne Wosch, speaking at CODE_n.
Companies’ entire value chains are being affected by this disruptive technology, said Wosch, EY Senior Manager, Advisory Services, Strategy, Innovation Management. “If you don’t use it, one of your competitors will.”
Additive manufacturing has been around for almost 30 years, but it is only with the rise of digital technology that it has really come into its own. It has multiple possible applications, from rapid prototyping to marketing, where, for instance, a company could print sample packaging to show its clients.
Faster, cheaper, easier
There are many advantages of producing items using 3D printing rather than conventional manufacturing processes. Two main ones are that, firstly, it simplifies and shortens the production process – the product is printed in one go, even if it has moving parts, so there is no need for assembly. Secondly, it reduces costs: you don’t have to pay for and store items “just in case”; instead, you print them only as and when you need them.
From chocolate to titanium
The variety of materials that can now be used is also increasing. Polymers, metals (including titanium), ceramics, chocolate and even living cells can all be employed. The possible applications are endless. For example, “bones” can be printed to replace hip and knee joints or, still in the research phase, tubes made from living cells to replace damaged blood vessels.
No wonder, then, that Wosch predicts 3D printing will radically alter business models. “If I design furniture, I produce the product, sell it and then send it to the customer. But now, consumers expect more individualized products. Perhaps the customer designs the furniture herself, or maybe you send the data to her and she prints it herself in the colors and materials she wants. Just imagine – no storage costs, no transportation costs.”
Wosch said 3D printing is a hot topic across all industries. “What we are hearing at EY is that often companies find there are ‘submarine projects’ where one part of the business has bought a 3D printer to experiment with but hasn’t discussed it with the rest of the company. We help people understand the impact of these disruptive technologies on their business.”
When is 3D printing useful?
- For single items. 3D printing reduces costs, because all you need to store is the data, which is then used to print on demand.
- For very individual items, such as hearing aids. A model is made of the auditory canal and then a hearing aid housing 3D printed to fit it exactly.
- For use in emergency situations, such as war zones. If a vehicle breaks down, you can print a spare part.
For more information please also visit the EY CODE_n insights page.