3-D Printing and the Future of Global Manufacturing

January 14, 2023

Cadillac Celestiq’s new “ultra-luxury” $300,000+ vehicle has more
than 100 3-D printed parts

Now that much of the hype around 3-D printing has died down—no more of that 2010s-era talk about a Star Trek-style replicator in every home—a funny thing is happening to this technology. It’s becoming a widely used, and in some respects quietly revolutionary, update to the way that people manufacture and process things we rely on every day—from cars to industrial machinery to food. “What’s more, the way this technology is being used could have implications for the shape of global supply chains to come,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 14-15, 2023).

3-D printing, also known as “additive manufacturing,” generally works by adding tiny layers of material—usually powdered metal or plastic—one at a time to form an item, and fusing them with binding agents, lasers or other methods. Thus, parts are “grown” instead of forged, cast, molded, or machined as in traditional manufacturing. Just a decade ago, this kind of manufacturing was, with rare exceptions, suitable only for creating prototypes. What’s different now is that newer technology lets these systems print objects strong enough to be used in finished products—and relatively quickly.

Recently, for example, GM made 60,000 weatherproof seals using 3-D printing, in plastic, rather than making them the old-fashioned way, to make sure it could deliver its 2022 Chevy Tahoe on time. BMW is making broad use of 3-D-printed parts throughout its lineup. Mercury Marine is producing its newest V12, 600-horsepower outboard motor with 3-D-printed molds.

3-D printing is making rapid inroads into conventional manufacturing all over the world. Globally, the entire industrial additive-manufacturing market grew to $13 billion in 2022, from $5.7 billion in 2016. That growth should accelerate in the next 5 years, with the size of the industry reaching $37 billion by 2026, as industrial 3-D printing displaces traditional mass manufacturing.

Companies can also use 3-D printing to do away with some of their inventory of spare parts, many of which can sit on warehouse shelves for years. Both Caterpillar and Saudi Aramco, for example, are digitizing their libraries of old parts so that they can print them in 3-D as needed, when machines that may have working lives of decades break. During the pandemic, Caterpillar began using some 3-D printed parts, made in the U.S., in place of conventionally manufactured versions that had become difficult to import from India.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

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