3D Printing & Its Impact on Manufacturing

3D Printing & Its Impact on Manufacturing

Throughout the past 20 years, the 3D printing industry has rapidly grown. Today this industry provides manufacturers additional benefits to their customers through cost efficiency, customization, and a higher degree of sustainability. By utilizing 3D printing, manufacturers have greater design freedom to produce complex structures that are extremely light and durable. Manufacturers can maximize the customization of their products through this process, as seen by recent innovations in automobiles, medical devices, and even complex structural components just to name a few. However, as innovations increase, many businesses find it difficult to obtain products or parts that are no longer manufactured, and with 3D printing, manufacturers can either create these discontinued products or they can customize new products according to their client’s needs, to the benefits of both parties.

Although it would require a huge paradigm shift to move away from traditional manufacturing to 3D printing entirely, some companies are already taking digital manufacturing to the next level. Local Motors is one, with their creation of the world’s first 3D-printed car, the Strati.[i] Over 75 percent of the Strati’s infrastructure is digitally printed, and formation of the vehicle only takes 44 hours. This type of manufacturing allows Local Motors to utilize their materials in a sustainable manner. With 3D printing, damaged automobile parts can be turned into useful materials by breaking them down and simply reprinting them. This process, in addition to the relatively low carbon footprint of its micro-factory, demonstrates the advantages of 3D printing and the effectiveness of printed materials.[ii]

In January of 2017, University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services (UT CIS) toured Local Motors’ manufacturing demonstration facility with Oak Ridge Lab’s Industrial Development Team. “We’re a long way from a world without warehouses, but the 3D printing industry is moving towards that pretty quickly,” said Rod Kirk, CIS’s Technology Acceleration Specialist. Kirk, along with three UT CIS Solutions Consultants, had the opportunity to attend a three-day seminar in December hosted by NIST MEP, a national network of experts focused on helping U.S. manufacturers. This seminar included training on types of 3D printing machines and their connection to potential business commercialization. These seminars have continued to pave the way for UT CIS to serve as a connector, bringing together manufacturers with companies like Local Motors in order to expand their capabilities.

Although 3D printing is still in its infancy, this industry has great potential to transform the way companies manufacture in the upcoming decades. Soon, 3D printing will be used not just for creating prototypes but for creating market-ready products. As previously mentioned, these final products created by 3D printing can already be seen in the automotive and healthcare industries. For instance, even though Audi does not currently have the capacity to implement 3D printing across their entire manufacturing process, they are able to print certain parts. Although limited, their printer can manufacture objects up to 240 mm in length and 200 mm wide allowing them to reduce overproduction and print on demand smaller scale inputs for their vehicles.[i]  In the healthcare industry, dentists are now able to print certain appliances unique to their patient’s needs, in their offices. As well, bio-printing is developing rapidly, and we are moving closer to printing replacement human organs.[ii] While these printing customizations are truly beneficial in the medical field, digital manufacturing allows for reduction of wasted raw materials and customization of complex devices, leading to greater manufacturing cost effectiveness and sustainability. 3D printing has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing in many industries, and the radical advancement and progress of 3D printing in the coming years should not be underestimated. 

[i] "Audi to Use 3D Printed Metal Parts in Production Cars." 3ders.org. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <http://www.3ders.org/articles/20151113-audi-to-use-3d-printed-metal-part....

[ii] Barnatt, Christopher. "3D Printing." ExplainingTheFuture.com : 3D Printing. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017. <http://explainingthefuture.com/3dprinting.html>.

[i] "Strati: The World's First 3D-Printed Car | Local Motors." Forth. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2017. <https://launchforth.io/localmotors/strati-the-worlds-first-3d-printed-ca....

[ii] Barker, Phil. "Behold the World's First 3D-printed Car." Local Motors Strati Is the World's First 3D-printed Car. N.p., 07 Nov. 2016. Web. 16 Feb. 2017. <http://www.redbull.com/us/en/stories/1331828043278/local-motors-strati-i....


About Tennessee Manufacturing

Manufacturing is an integral part of Tennessee's economy. According to the National Association of Manufactuers, the industry accounts for nearly 15 percent of the state's total output and employs 11.4 percent of its workforce. The goal of the Made in Tennessee program is to support the Volunteer State's manufacturing community by raising awareness of their products and providing resources to help them grow. 


About the Center for Industrial Services

For 50 years, CIS has assisted manufacturers across the state in the areas of business growth, health and safety and sustainability. CIS also has led economic development efforts by helping existing firms become more competitive, develop new products and markets, and by teaching economic development practitioners new approaches to navigating economic growth. For more on CIS visit www.cis.tennessee.edu