3D Printing – Next Game Changer

        There has been a very quiet earthquake that very few have yet to even notice but that has changed the landscape forever. In 2013 consumers will be able to purchase, likely from some retail outlet, a little device called a 3 D printer… perhaps for as little as a few thousand dollars.

         Boom! That was the sound of a paradigm shift. The landscape is moving under our feet.

         A small device that can sit on your desktop, okay you may need a larger desk, but none-the-less makes you not only a design firm, team or individual… It makes you a manufacturing facility. For all that entails and with all the implications attached.

         So to call it a printer is really a misnomer. It is actually closer to a injection mold machine… Put your design in one end and out the other comes your widget, ready to ship in the colour  wanted and exactly how your customer needs it. That should be Boom #2.

         Begin to let your mind wonder. This past year Mercedes Benz, as did every other auto manufacturer one would surmise in this competitive global sector, undertook a re-design of their just in time manufacturing process to increase efficiency for a specific model series. The auto industry since the 1980’s has swung to the ‘Just In Time’ production process, a production philosophy and method that has grown and expanded to other industries since.

For those of you not aware of this method let me give you a very brief example. You order a new car, but want red seats not grey and the order goes to the plant to be manufactured. As your car starts down the assembly line… there actually are no seats, anywhere. In fact there is not dashboard, steering wheel… you get the idea. Your seats like all the other parts arrive at the assembly line to be placed into your car by the team or machine… just moments before hand. The exact red seats you asked for. Your car is finished and sent to the dealer for you to pick up as ordered it.

The benefit to the manufacturer in this case should be obvious, they are not pre-manufacturing parts and holding them until your red seat order arrives. They don’t need to have the extra space to inventory them, the investment in making them or the gamble of guessing if you wanted red seats in the first place. When you want red seats they buy them hours ahead of time and the auto parts manufacturer sends them having been given only a day or two notice… and guess what, they don’t actually have the seat cover when they get their order… and so on.

I am guessing you can see the logistical issues that arrive in getting the red fabric to the seat frame assembler in time to have it at your car at the very moment it is being built. Manufactures have replaced the day when the auto plant was surrounded by auto owned support manufacturing components facilities. The seats were made just out the back door of the auto assembly line, the doors in the building beside and the…

Auto plants were geographically huge. Today, that seat comes from thousands of miles away. But… if you can, in a very short time custom make that one seat, as needed from a small work station just to the side of the seat installation assembly line location… or grey, or white, or blue (from the same unit) the changed landscape, is changing back? Now this process will need to evolve to where it is a total cost equivalent to the system now in place, but it will provide the manufacturer flexibility and greater control. Redesign will be done… live, on the spot. The manufacturing process will become fully dynamic.

Now think clothes, your office furnishings, your…. KaBoom! So think about what you are going to ask Santa for this Christmas after you take a look at the following:


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