Additive manufacturing (AM), also referred to as 3D printing, is a collective name for several technologies through which an object is constructed layer by layer. The industrial materials that are currently printable range from polymers to metals, and the range of available materials is constantly expanding. Whereas AM was originally mostly used for prototyping, it is now more and more applied to end-products. Article by Saswitha de Kok and Corwin van Heteren, PricewaterhouseCoopers.
In some cases, additive manufacturing can be considered as a supplement to conventional production technologies. In other cases, it is the only means through which complex products can be fabricated or a solution to cost-effective upscaling of production capacity at low risk in order to serve new verticals, new geographies, and offer new products that need testing.
The technique offers several advantages that optimise and transform both products and processes, and may result in unprecedented and significant business value.
The generic advantages of additive manufacturing are:
- Complexity is free; additive manufacturing offers complete design freedom which allows to design for the exact function of a product without constraints associated with conventional manufacturing.
- Minimum batch size is one; the cost per part produced is equal and significantly less dependent on batch size.
- Manufacturing when and wherever needed; production at or near point of use is possible.
- Minimum material waste; as material is added, not subtracted, material is saved in production which allows for cost savings, especially in cases where material is a significant driver of component cost.
Although the general consensus is that these advantages offer great (potential) business value for both products and processes, there is a much divergence in visions of the type and depth of value that can be achieved. Therefore, we focused on assessing how much of this value is currently being unlocked by our discussion group. And how much potential do they see in the near future when the technology matures (becomes faster, more reliable and cheaper) and additive manufacturing systems and services improve?
Assessing Business Value Potential
In order to determine possibilities to add business value through additive manufacturing, it is essential to be aware of three basic underlying principles. These relate to the complexity of the product, advantages of scale when it comes to manufacturing, and the size of the object.
The technology offered by additive manufacturing makes it both possible and cost effective to produce complex shapes. This means the more complex the product or component, the more suitable additive manufacturing is, as opposed to conventional techniques.
The next underlying principle has to do with batch size. In general, the larger the series to be produced, the less suitable additive manufacturing is. Conventional manufacturing economics dictates that the larger the series, the lower the cost per unit. For additive manufacturing, each unit has the same cost.
Finally, additive manufacturing is in the current situation particularly suitable for producing smaller parts or products, which means businesses still have to turn to conventional technologies for larger parts.
The specific business values that are currently being achieved based on the principles mentioned above, are best categorised with respect to added value for processes as well as products. The more this added value applies to customer-end applications, the more we see the occurrence of competitive advantage, new business models and propositions.
Our consultation partners currently see the following pockets of value being created:
Business value for processes:
- The time-to-market for new parts and products is reduced significantly. This boosts the speed of product innovation spectacularly.
- Asset maintenance or maintenance of machines in the field becomes easier: spare parts and specialised tooling are always available on demand.
- Assembly time and tooling costs are reduced if a product or part can be printed in one go, without requiring sub-assembly.
Business value for products:
- Related to the last point , additive manufacturing makes it also possible to optimise the design by printing a product that previously consisted of sub-assemblies in one go. This significantly decreases error rates during the lifetime of a product, and increases the product lifecycle.
- As the minimum production quantity is one unit, it is possible to offer (mass)- customisation. As a result, new verticals and geographical markets with specific needs can be opened up at low risk and low cost.
- By means of rapid prototyping and rapid testing, design can efficiently be optimised and the ‘voice of the customer’ can be included in new product development.
Additive manufacturing opens up new business models and propositions. Our discussion partners indicated that they currently see the following business models emerging:
Co-Creation Platforms – AM opens up the possibility to co-create with customers. Co-creation can be introduced in virtually all stages of the lifecycle of a product. During the concept phase of a new product, the voice of the customer can easily be incorporated by testing small batches. It can also be applied to offer customisation of an existing design, or to prolong the lifetime value of a product by offering customised add-ons to the product.
Extreme Customisation – Combined with tools like measuring guides and scanning tools, companies are now able to mass produce custom-fit items in a cost-effective manner. As the performance of fitted products is generally much higher, customer value will greatly increase as well.
Although more and more home scanning tools are becoming available, it is important to note that for medical applications, such as prostheses and hearing aids, sophisticated professional devices are needed to achieve the high level of accuracy needed.
Lifecycle Management – Lifecycle management is one of the most prominent current applications of AM. Prolonging the lifecycle starts with the design phase of the product or part. Using the design possibilities offered by additive manufacturing, assembly might not be needed, which prolongs the lifecycle of a product and reduces errors.
Additive Manufacturing Service Propositions – The growth in AM adoption has resulted in the emergence of many new service propositions related to the supply of the technology as well as solutions within the entire associated process. AM requires many new capabilities that businesses have just started to build up, so there is a lot of space for service providers in this area.
As the general maturity of additive manufacturing increases, the applicability of both a technological as an economical perspective increases as well. Our consultation partners indicated that they see potential; particularly as a result of the repeatability and accuracy of the technology, its increasing speed, the number of materials that can be used, multi-material print capabilities and the size of the printable surface. As soon as the speed of the hardware increases, the depreciation of the machine per printed part will be reduced and costs per product are lowered. This means that a larger portion of the product or part portfolio will be printable from an economic perspective.
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