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Industries and Companies ideal for 3D Printing

Industries and Companies ideal for 3D Printing                                         by: 3Sourceful

While mainstream adoption is still many years away, 3D printing is already common in certain niche applications.  The key success drivers to adoption of 3D printing for a particular application are:

Low Quantities – 3D printing technology is typically only economical for low production quantities.  As quantities increase, its higher production costs make it uncompetitive.

High Willingness-to-Pay – Since production and material costs are significantly higher with 3D printing; industries that are extremely cost sensitive are not good candidates for adoption.

High Complexity – Products demanding complex forms help justify the increased cost of 3D printing.  Traditionally, complexity can require multiple production technologies and assembly steps.  As described above, complexity is ‘free’ in 3D printing.

Supply Chain Impact – The unique tooling and setup costs of 3D printing mean that it can be quite disruptive in small niches of the supply chain.  Industries and applications that have high supply chain costs relative to products costs are good candidates for adoption.

Data Availability  – All 3D printers need computer data to operate.  Certain industries and applications have an advantage in having a wealth of data available so that they reduce the content creation barrier to adoption.

The following industries and applications can be broken down along these factors.  Note that most applications require that several factors be favorable for adoption.

Medical Devices –Medical devices have been using 3D printing technology for quite some time.  There are several factors for this.  All custom medical devices have production values of one.  Products are purchased on performance vs. cost.  Complexity is high for prosthetics, etc.  And, the recent advantages in scanning technologies mean that there is a wealth of digital data available.  An example application is Invisalign.  Invisalign 3D prints series of orthodontic correction devices for their customers from their dental scans.

Aerospace – As with many new technologies, aerospace is one of the first major industries to adopt.  Performance requirements are high and production volumes are much lower as compared with consumer devices.  There is also a high willingness-to-pay.  Finally, since programs can last decades, keeping the required spare parts on hand is very difficult and costly.  Examples of applications of 3D printing in aerospace include instrument panels made by RC Allen.  General Electric Aviation recently acquired one of the major metal 3D printing service providers, Morris Technologies.

Niche Markets  – Traditionally, when small companies have ideas for physical products they often cannot execute on their ideas because of the large fixed costs associated with having something produced.  These barriers are now removed.  Kappius components are a great example.  Kappius makes very racing bicycle components for a particular style of competition.  Due to volumes, high customer willingness to pay, and high product complexity, 3D printing was the best technology for production.

Spare Parts – While most businesses try to avoid inventory, inventory is the business in the spare parts industry.  A huge variety of parts have to be held for many years.  Rather than buying and holding, 3D printing could print spare parts on demand.  Volumes are low enough to remain cost competitive.  And customers typical have a very high willingness-to-pay since the parts may well be critical for larger equipment.  NASA has discussed using a 3D printer in space to produce parts when needed.  And newer companies, such as the Swedish music products business Teenage Engineering, are utilizing 3D printing to eliminate that portion of their supply chain.  Teenage Engineering now posts the CAD files for the spare parts for free and will tell users where to have them printed. (3Ders.org)

Mass – Mass Customization – Shapeways is a New York based venture funded company that creates a market for consumer to consumer sales.  Individuals can upload their own designs for anyone to purchase.  Shapeways performs the 3D printing for all designs sorted through their site.  Additionally, Shapeways has solved the ‘CAD data issues’ as users provide the necessary CAD designs.  Shapeways has received $47MM in venture funding to date.  (Tech Crunch)

A summary of these factors applied across industries is below: