There are many predictions that foresee 3D printing as the future of manufacturing and many of these predictions are correct. Although that vision doesn’t match with our current reality. People have been hoping to be able to manufacture products in their own homes quickly and easily for years, but progress in the consumer section has stalled. In contrast, in the B2B market 3D printing is thriving. The reason for this is, like many technologies before it, most of the innovations begin in large institutions and then as adoption increases, economies of scale come into play. An excellent example of this is the history of computing, the first machines were large, expensive machines and as time went on, more and more developments lead to cheaper methods of production and finally miniaturisation cause production costs to decrease and eventually the computer became affordable to the average home.

In terms of current historical comparisons, we are at the organisational stage in the 3D printings’ technological development, where the largest adopters of 3D printing technology are institutions. Being a product that is catered to the manufacturing field, this is the logical focus of the market, where despite there being many hobbyists, the largest focus for 3D printing manufacturers is catering machines to larger organisations.

Why are So Many Companies Adopting 3D Printing?

There are a number of reasons why so many companies adopt 3D printing, the biggest becomes clear when you look at the concept of economies of scale (where savings are generated by the more you produce). We can see that 3D printing has lowered the minimum efficient scale of production, which is a game changer for manufacturers.

The minimum efficient scale in manufacturing can be surmised as the lowest amount that an organisation needs to manufacture but still being able to benefit from economies of scale by being able to offer the product at a competitive price. For example, if a car company were to produce a small number of vehicles, the average cost of a care would be incredibly high due to fixed costs, such as labour costs and rent being applied to the lower unit numbers. If the car manufacturer instead produces a large number of vehicles, then the cost per unit would be lower.

To better understand this, we need to look at the relationship between unit average costs and marginal costs, marginal costs is the cost associated with producing one extra unit and the change it produces to total costs for that product line. An example would be, if a car company factory at full capacity would need another production line to produce one extra car if it had an increase in demand, this would mean that the new production line that would be required would be considered as a marginal cost. By adding the extra line, the cost of producing extra cars would decrease due to economies of scale. This is an important figure for many manufacturers because it helps them to determine the optimal production number for their business.

How Does 3D Printing Relate to This?

3D printing is a technology that has a lower efficient scale due to a few properties. 3D printing reduces labour costs because it can be highly automated, where a small team can run a line of 3D printers easily without overseeing each element, this affords them to work on other tasks. 3D printing can also produce highly complex geometric parts in a single process, other production methods such as injection modelling or CNC machining require multiple steps to produce items that have complex shapes and in many cases these technologies can’t achieve the same complexity as 3D printing. Many of these parts would require multiple production runs to get the desired results which would increase costs. Additionally, to be able to create these objects, organisations would need highly trained staff which also adds to their fixed costs. 3D printing can produce parts, allow for changes without requiring extra tools or equipment in comparison to other methods. The future possibilities are exponential, and this is why the world is fixated on this 3D printing technology.

3D printing goes completely against standard manufacturing processes, which makes it a great disruptor in the manufacturing space. The process is simple, linear and costs are low. It can produce nearly any part using the same machine and as the technology develops, it will only become more versatile and adaptive.