Health care manufacturing is one segment of the manufacturing industry that is already feeling the disruptive impact of 3-D printing. Inspired by Luke Skywalker’s prosthetic hand in The Empire Strikes Back, startup Project io has developed an app called Anaken that can scan the residual limbs of amputees for 3-D printing in order to ensure a better prosthetic fit. In conjunction with open source initiative The Open Hand Project, this should bring the price of prosthetics down from over $100,000 to about $1,000.
As this illustrates, the impact of 3-D printing can be dramatic. 80 percent of attendees of this year’s World Economics Forum annual meeting in Davos believe that by 2025, five percent of all consumer products will be produced by 3-D printers, including automobiles, where 3-D printing manufacturing is projected to see a 27 percent compound annual growth rate over the next few years. Here’s a look at some of the ways 3-D printing is helping startups disrupt manufacturing.
Making Rapid Prototyping and Production Easier
One of the biggest benefits 3-D printing represents for startups is making prototyping easier and less expensive, says Australian recruitment agency Talent. Manufacturing prototypes can often be too expensive for startups that lack the capital to invest in production equipment and experts, posing a formidable barrier to moving forward on what may well be a good idea. Similarly, startups without equipment for mass production face an unprofitable proposition when trying to compete with established companies who can produce at scale.
3-D printing removes these barriers by enabling startups to easily and affordably produce both prototypes and actual goods for sale. For instance, Apple Rubber uses 3-D printing to supply affordable customized o-rings and seals that can be made out of any material, ranging from butyl to fluorocarbon to Vamc, and can be used for both prototypes and products. This type of easy access to 3-D-printed materials makes rapid prototyping easier for startups than ever before.
Making Operations More Efficient
3-D printing also makes operations more efficient for startups, putting them on more competitive ground with established companies. Most companies using 3-D printing to improve their operations are doing so piecemeal to reduce specific direct costs, but the real gains come from using the technology to systematically reduce the total cost of manufacturing and overhead, says Dartmouth business strategy professor Richard D’Aveni.
For instance, 3-D printing can cut steps out of the manufacturing process, reducing money spent on wasted steps. 3-D printing can also reduce inventory costs by enabling companies to produce only as much as is needed to meet demand. 3-D printing can further cut shipping costs by empowering companies to produce at locations closer to customers.
Serving Customers Better
One way 3-D printing lets companies serve customers better is by allowing mass customization options. For instance, Nike is already letting customers choose customized shoe options online, and has invested in an innovative 3-D printing solution that prints ten times as fast at half the cost to take its mass customization capability to the next level. Meanwhile, UPS has launched a national network of 60 3-D printing locations plus a central 3-D printing factory in order to enable companies to fulfill orders more rapidly. The next step will be to install 3-D printers on trucks so that customers can have their orders fulfilled directly by local trucks within hours of ordering.
Selling Products More Effectively
3-D printing also supports more effective sales processes. By making it easier to create customized products for individual customers, 3-D printing makes products more attractive to buyers. Sales representatives can also have the advantage of being able to do demonstrations with rapidly-printed prototypes, making benefits easier to show and sales objections easier to answer.
Additionally, 3-D printing can promote repeat sales by improving post sales service. With 3-D printing, manufacturing outlets can more easily stock replacement parts or have them printed on demand, points out additive manufacturing engineering solutions provider Stratnel.