Manufacturers, consumer goods companies, medical device providers and their supply chain vendors are expanding the use of 3D printing — with the help of robots.
Gartner’s annual predictions about the future of 3D printing have been published. A brief synopsis of this year’s 19 page Predicts report follows.
Strategic Planning Assumption: By 2020, 10% of industrial operations will incorporate robotic 3D printers in their manufacturing processes.
Analysis by: Mike Shanler, Dale Kutnick
Siemens Spider Robot
Over the past decade, 3D printing (3DP) has had significant technical advancements and adoption within a broad array of industries. It has moved well beyond prototyping and the printing of inexpensive, minimally functional plastic prototypes. 3DP is now starting to press into manufacturing operations that require quick-to-market builds, unique design requirements and even low-volume production runs.
Already, there are several other developments that are precursors for future developments. Recent concepts in the news include:
- The use of multiple autonomous robots for collaborative printing (e.g., Siemens’ “Spider Robot”)
- Capabilities for leveraging automation to perform “infinite build and robotic composite” (e.g., 3D Systems, Stratasys)
- Advances with end-of-arm tooling on automation
- Integrated inspection systems (e.g., Luxexcel and Automation and Robotics) and industry prototypes for large-scale automation and construction (e.g., ABB and Skansa)
Factory floor “hybrids” that combine milling machines with 3DP are also in the works. Gartner expects these projects to continue and to attract more research and funding.
We expect the automated 3DP systems to become more sophisticated. Many of those older, error-prone, preprogrammed automation efforts will be superseded by the new breed of intelligent automation that can adapt and self-correct. The process will monitor itself as it is being printed and either correct the process or reject the part when problems occur. The nature of 3DP and the continuous, high-inspection requirements make “smart automation” a better fit in the long-term for the manufacturing processes than older programmable robotic approaches.
Strategic Planning Assumption: By 2020, 30% of internal medical devices/implants will be 3D printed at or near healthcare facilities.
Analysis by: Jim Burton, Dale Kutnick
The need for customization will be the initial driver of 3DP of implantable medical devices at or near a healthcare facility. Because most biomedical device implants (such as orthopedic, dental and other prosthetics; valves, sphincters; bone “cushions”; and “separators;” and eventually partial or whole organs) will benefit from higher levels of personalization/customization (e.g., due to minor differences in each humans’ anatomy and physiology — especially potential antibody rejection), 3DP will increasingly become a viable option.
Many people will assume it is “speed” that is driving the market, but that’s likely a lesser consideration than higher levels of personalization and “fit.” That said, medical devices can be shipped by air across the country or across the world within hours. It is now common for medical device and equipment suppliers to take presterilized implants to an airline and place them on the next flight when an emergency shipment is needed. That means an implant can travel from New Jersey to an operating room in Los Angeles in seven to nine hours.
The speed with which medical devices can currently be made available must be balanced against the technical and legal issues associated with 3DP-implantable medical devices at or near the healthcare facility. For instance, it currently takes multiple hours to 3D print an implant, and that doesn’t count the time to clean, inspect and sterilize it. We believe this process will be dramatically improved during the next three years. The time to make it in a factory or to 3D print it near the hospital is nearly the same once everything is factored in.
Strategic Planning Assumption: By 2020, 3D printing will reduce new product introduction timelines by 25%.
Analysis by: Pete Basiliere
Across manufacturing verticals such as aerospace, automotive, defense, heavy industrial equipment and medical devices, personnel involved in activities such as new product development, manufacturing operations and service are exploring ways to exploit 3DP. Why? 3DP offers the ability to transform an organization’s business model by nurturing innovation, reducing the time to market for new and refined products, cutting capital investment expenditures, achieving cost reductions, and enhancing the product development process and customer service.
OtterBox (Fort Collins, Colorado) is a manufacturer of protective cases for mobile phones and tablets and is well-known as a manufacturer of nearly indestructible phone and tablet cases (“We engineer confidence”). With a history of 3D printers used for prototyping and production tooling going back to its first ZCorp (now 3D Systems) device, OtterBox can bring a product from concept through production and packaging to store shelves in only eight weeks.
Curt Richardson (founder, chairman and chief visionary officer) says that, for OtterBox, the cost is not anywhere near as important as the increased revenue from a much quicker time to market — as little as eight weeks from “concept to peg” (that is, from having an idea to having the product hanging on retailers’ displays).
The number of iterations enabled by rapid and iterative prototyping results in shorter new-product development time, lower development costs and fewer finished goods defects. Coupled with increasingly powerful CAD software and improved coordination of software and hardware development teams’ efforts, we predict that 3DP will reduce new product introduction timelines by 25%.
Strategic Planning Assumption: By 2020, 75% of manufacturing operations worldwide will be using 3D-printed tools, jigs and fixtures made in-house or by a service bureau to produce finished goods.
Analysis by: Pete Basiliere
Enterprises are beginning to realize that 3D printer use is not an either-or situation — prototype or finished good — but also an opportunity to support traditional techniques used to manufacture finished goods. 3D printers are capable of producing tools, jigs and fixtures with adequate finish quality and strength.
For example, 3D-printed molds produced with high heat-resistant plastics are viable options for blow mold prototypes. Engineers are able to test and validate final production designs, thereby reducing development time and risk and making it possible to receive functional, testable samples and low-volume production parts faster than before.
Inserts and Pistons to Form Potato Products in Different Shapes
Source: 3D Systems
3D printers are practical alternatives to machined tools, jigs and fixtures:
- 3D-printed tooling from Fathom, an additive and conventional manufacturing service provider, has reduced the injection molding process timeline from weeks to hours.
- Advanced Composite Structures uses 3D-printed alignment jigs to ensure the proper location of manually drilled holes.
- BMW provides assembly line workers with custom-fitted gloves that incorporate a tool used in attaching dashboards to vehicles.
- Opel provides jigs used by assembly line workers to properly locate and align badges to vehicle bodies.
All 3D printers are capable of producing tools, jigs and fixtures, with some doing it noticeably better than others. The tools, jigs and fixtures that can be produced with more-than-adequate finish quality and strength enable process and efficiency improvements to manufacturing lines. Equally important, 3D-printed jigs and fixtures enable rapid and iterative changes to the original shape, whether it’s to facilitate a quick production line changeover or to improve the productivity and quality of the items being manufactured.
Now it is up to you to determine how robotic, hybridized 3D printers can be integrated into your organization and operations, and to seek suppliers and partners who can help implement these solutions. Put the processes in place that support iterative prototyping and rapid product development by staff and supply chain providers.
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