Dr Elaine Garcia works as a faculty member with the University of Roehampton, London Online. As a published academic, her research interests are wide-ranging, covering information systems, project management, social media and new technologies. Having recently completed her PhD, she explains how 3D printing could affect business practices and manufacturing demand.
Whilst the concept of on-demand 3D printing might sound like a futuristic and unachievable idea, this is the very concept that is now becoming reality. The availability of affordable, flexible and relatively easy-to-use 3D printers has led to a range of businesses now being able to consider changing the way in which they both produce and distribute their products.
A 3D printer works by using melted plastic in a similar way to toner within a traditional printer. Rather than placing ink on a page, a 3D printer will place a series of very thin layers of plastic on top of each in order to create a 3D object according to the design loaded within the print. This allows any number of 3D objects to be created – even 3D printers themselves.
In terms of production, 3D printing has the potential to have a huge effect. One of the key benefits to companies will be that they will potentially no longer be required to commit to very large production runs. Instead of requiring large-scale machinery, it may be possible for them to print their products on demand using 3D printers instead. Additionally, companies will be very easily able to produce prototypes and different types of designs for minimal cost. This will encourage companies to experiment and explore different approaches to their products. Another advantage of 3D printing is that it will become quite easy for companies to customize and change their products. The costs associated with changing a product will be determined more by the cost of changing the design than by the cost of changing machinery and production runs.
In terms of distribution, there will potentially be significant changes as a result of the introduction of 3D printing. Rather than being required to produce and distribute products from a single factory, companies will have the option to send products as files to other locations so that they can be printed closer to distribution points. This may result not only in the shortening of supply chains but also in reduced distribution costs around the world.
For consumers, 3D printing could represent a fundamentally different way of purchasing goods. In future consumers could have a 3D printer within their home and (rather than purchasing goods) purchase files that are sent to them to allow them to print their own product at home. If a product breaks, it may become possible for a consumer to print a replacement part rather than replacing the full product. It is also likely to become far easier for consumers to customise goods and products either themselves or via the company from whom they are buying.
Whilst there are therefore a number of benefits to the use of 3D printing, there are also some potential issues that will need to be overcome. One of the primary ones relates to copyright and intellectual property. Whilst copyright and intellectual property will still exist, it will become far easier for products to be copied and reproduced. Issues surrounding printing multiple products will also need to be addressed. These fundamental issues will need to be resolved before 3D printing becomes fully integrated into business.
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Dr Elaine Garcia
Keeping informed and staying ahead of advances in new technology are important when considering the future of your business. Find out how you can enhance your knowledge and move forward in your career with an online masters in business and management from the University of Roehampton, London Online.