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3D Print Manufacturintg Adopted Faster Than Anticipated

Posted Monday, May 1, 2017 by Jules VanSant.

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In March 2016, Semper CEO, Dave Regan wrote an article on how 3D printing would impact the world. The feedback from that article was mixed. Some readers thought the 3D print advancements the article explained would not happen for decades. Others were so intrigued, they wanted to know how to incorporate this technology into their business sooner rather than later.

The March 2016 article described a future where recycling 3D products occurred immediately after use and the raw material was utilized to create another 3D item. Also, it looked at how 3D print technology would impact society in general and business in particular.

3D Print and Clothing Industry

Last year, the fashion world played around with designing and producing 3D printed clothes for their top end lines. Expensive pieces manufactured in small batches lend themselves to accretive technologies.

Recently, a more mainstream implementation of 3D print in fashion was put on display by high-end retailer Ministry of Supply at its posh Boston location. The clothing retailer is touting its custom 3D Print-Knit blazers made right in the Boston store. The 3D Print-Knit process at Ministry of Supply is streamlined and modern. No mass manufacturing but instead custom orders produced in the store.

Athletic Shoe Giant Leveraging 3D Print

3D print in the fashion and business officially moved up to the big leagues when Adidas announced it would mass-produce a 3D-printed shoe in 2018. The global athletic shoe company will be able to make batches of its custom Futurecraft shoes much faster with the help of 3D print technology. For Adidas, it’s not just about manufacturing efficiency as they are working to develop a better shoe design with the 3D print technology.

It’s a big leap for many companies to think about integrating 3D print into their everyday operations. A lot of businesses may be unsure how the technology can effectively impact the various facets of their production process.

Caterpillar: An Implementation Example

Caterpillar, a global manufacturing giant has successfully added 3D printers to its research and development department and manufacturing process. Caterpillar’s 3D implementation process was recently detailed on as a prudent model to follow while allowing for moderations based on your business size.

3D Print and Caterpillar Pre-production

Caterpillar’s engineers use desktop 3D printers for early iterations and designs before any advanced manufacturing begins. Before the desktop 3D printers were installed, company engineers utilized stereolithography machines in their rapid prototype lab. Now instead of going to the lab, engineers have the ability to make models at their own desks.

3D Print and Caterpillar Manufacturing

Start Small: The mantra Caterpillar said was key to follow when adding 3D printers to their manufacturing process. The mantra can be applied to the number of machines purchased or to the training programs needed for employees to get up to speed on the new technology.

Over time, Caterpillar provided their employees with 3D printer training summits. The education and camaraderie among the company’s 3D print employees has blossomed since the technology was first introduced. Caterpillar holds 3D design competitions on a regular basis and encourages employees to participate.

3D Print and Caterpillar Product Development

3D print is having a positive impact on Caterpillar’s significant aftermarket business (Making new parts for equipment that is several years old) and its costs in time and labor. With their 3D printers, Caterpillar is looking to scan some of their inventory in order to better support their aftermarket products that need parts after decades in the field. Then when an aftermarket order is needed employees can refer to the 3D scan and print out the parts requested.

3D print technology is enabling Caterpillar’s products to be made in less time and at a cheaper cost. The industrial printers work so efficiently that they saved the company $160,000 on a project producing track links.

Caterpillar is only one corporate example of how 3D print technology will be the next technological business revolution. The large companies have started the trend and it will spread to companies of all sizes with different applications for the technology.

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