3D innovation Taking manufacturing to new levels

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Manufacturers today are facing more complex business challenges than ever before. To stay competitive in a global marketplace, they are under increasing pressure to produce higher quality goods faster and at lower cost. Mass customisation is adding to the weight of these considerations, and to balance customer expectations with sustainable growth and productivity, manufacturing must capitalise on recent technology advancements and the benefits digital transformation can bring.

The question for modern British manufacturers is how to ensure business investment powers future growth and avoids stagnation. The industry can – and should – continue to build on its success and whether it is streamlining processes or improving the layout of factories, there are plenty of ways for manufacturing to become leaner and more efficient.

Increased investment in innovative technologies is key to driving these sector-wide efficiencies and improvements. So much so that it is the top priority for manufacturers according to the EEF’s Executive Survey for 2016.

Manufacturers are already using technology innovation to deliver productivity benefits and increase export growth. According the EEF’s Innovation Monitor 15/16, manufacturing is one of the most innovative industries in Britain with 94% of manufactures engaging with innovation to some degree.                                            

In 2016, one technology in particular stands out – 3D printing. Nowhere is innovation more prevalent than in manufacturing’s use of 3D print technology. Today’s consumers demand customised products and services with increasing immediacy - which isn’t always economically viable with traditional manufacturing processes that are optimised for large volumes of consistent output in industrial centres. However 3D printers can, and increasingly are, being using to introduce supply chain and production efficiencies to create customised, improved and sometimes even difficult to manufacture products right where they will be used. Today, a 3D printer employed in the right way can essentially function as a mobile factory.

Today 3D Printing is more than just prototyping. IT offers transformative advantages at every phase of creation, from initial concept design to production of final products and all steps in between. This competitive environment makes choosing the right 3D printers more important than ever. For a long time, 3D printing was something that only larger manufacturers could afford due to due to the high investment costs. But technological developments in recent years have levelled the playing field somewhat with lower-cost devices making the concept accessible to a larger audience. This is evolution is a huge boost to the entire industry.

IDC’s Futurescape Worldwide Manufacturing Prediction for 2016 forecasts that the transformative potential of 3D printing across the entire industry will see 50% of manufacturers modernise their logistics network to leverage 3D printing, alongside robotics and cognitive computing, by 2019. This, coupled with the availability of the technology, also has Gartner predicting shipments of 3D printers to double every year between 2015 and 2018 alongside strong enterprise demand as the technology continues to mature.

Manufacturing on-demand is getting closer and closer to reality thanks to 3D printing but in the shorter term, it is transforming the industry in other ways and in the UK in particular is driving an industry-wide surge of enhanced productivity throughout the supply and production chain.

Author

Head of Corporate & Government Affairs, Canon UK & Ireland

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