Three ways 3D printing is transforming business
Hervé Harvard, director of advanced technology development unit UTS Rapido shares his thoughts on how 3D printing - also known as additive manufacturing - is disrupting business models.
“The discussion around 3D printing is going to move,” says Hervé Harvard, UTS Rapido director at The Faculty of Engineering and IT. “It won’t be a question of ‘should we use 3D printing?’ or ‘what is it?’—people are using it and so should you.”
Since 2017, Harvard’s team has been helping organisations deliver hardware prototypes and solutions with the technology. Rapido works closely with ProtoSpace, UTS’s recently launched additive manufacturing facility, which houses Australia’s most advanced 3D printers and promotes deeper industry partnerships and innovation.
Additive manufacturing is experiencing major growth. “3D printing will make products better. We’re going to have a transition of materials, less assembly, lighter parts,” Harvard enthuses. “Eventually we’re going to have a business model revolution—completely new ways to make business around parts and manufacture.” Here’s some ways that 3D printing is already transforming businesses and people working with UTS:
Bespoke 3D printing for functional parts
Most 3D printers are designed to make a variety of items for prototyping. “If a machine can print anything, there’s a compromise,” says Harvard—printing speed and choice of material are two examples. “The option is to build a machine that makes exactly what you need, specifically designed for your needs.”
Industry is demanding machines that produce functional parts in the intended material quickly, cheaply and efficiently. A customised 3D printer and smartphone scanning app Rapido developed in collaboration with e-commerce company Tec.Fit is creating a new online clothing retail business model.
After scanning your body with the app, the data can be used by a tailor anywhere in the world to print a life-sized mannequin of exact proportions. The result? A perfect fitting garment without a face-to-face meeting—and no more costly returns or exchanges for the retailer. “It’s not just measuring the person; tailors need to see how the material falls on your body,” Harvard elaborates. Mannequins are melted down and the material is used for the next job; the 3D printer is relatively cheap and can be carried on a plane.
“We call it bespoke 3D printing technologies,” says Harvard. Another project involves Downer Mineral Technologies on a 3D printer specialised in producing mineral separators. Not only does it speed up the manufacturing process; reduced chemical usage and air contamination improves the manufacturing environment.
Streamlined supply chain
Another advantage of the Mineral Technologies collaboration is having digital files that are printed on-site as required. “Instead of shipping the product, they ship the factory. It disrupts the supply chain and gives them a differentiation on the market.”
Wide industry adoption, however, will take a while. “It’s not going to be for everything,” Harvard stresses. Depending on the sector there are questions such as the quality of output and certification processes, but there are encouraging signs.
“Volkswagen announced they were going to use 3D printing on their manufacturing line,” he says. “That’s massive news.” In the aerospace field, a turboprop plane engine with 3D printed parts is pending approval. “Once 3D printing is used as a functional part in a plane—a critical part—you can’t question the quality anymore. Because they’ve made it work. They’re going to lead all of industry towards this way of doing things.”
Mass customisation, faster delivery
“People used to love artisans; the ability to have your unique piece with a story to it,” says Harvard, but there were caveats. “It was not very cost effective, so we went to mass manufacturing. You can still have customised goods—it’s just not affordable. [Delivery] time is also an issue. 3D printing changes this.”
A UTS student’s collaboration with disability support startup AbilityMade is developing 3D printed ankle-foot orthoses, which help children with cerebral palsy to walk and possibly avoid wheelchairs later in life. 3D printing and scanning technologies reduce the customised braces’ waiting list-to-delivery time from over 12-months to 48 hours.
“Everybody is different and 3D printing allows this in a very cost-effective way,” says Harvard. Prices will be further reduced in the future, bringing mass customisation to the masses. The internet also enables co-creation.
“Companies will realise it adds great value to the customer and customers will expect to engage with manufacturers in co-creation.
“Let’s say you’re getting a bike helmet and you want it the perfect shape. You take a picture of your head with an app and [later] receive your helmet,” Harvard explains. “What you’ve done, is you’ve co-created—you used your body to design the product with the manufacturer.” In the future, customers may have even have a co-creation profile stored in the Cloud. “When you co-create an object online, it’s 90% done through your profile.”