History of 3D printing
The ability to bring rapid prototyping methods in-house is now a reality for manufacturing firms combined with an open source approach also allows for much faster information transfer and absorption that grants manufacturing firms the capability to innovate and react to market pressures even quicker than it has been able to in the past. In the past the use of traditional CAD systems in 3D printing allowed for ease of use with traditional designers of products that could print the prototype cheaply and quickly in-house, this developed the speed of decision making for bespoke parts. This is most evident in the YouTube clip below:
The development of bespoke parts based on a database of previous models, allow for development of parts that are very specific and can be assessed ‘within hours’. This speeds up the R&D and manufacturing processes to a level never seen before. An advantage to the first mover combined with the speed to market can generate quick revenues and can win over the early adopters. This on a consistent basis will develop brand loyalty. The dangers of this however can be that the firm needs to adopt an interlinked, in-house, vertically integrated supply chain for it to be really successful, due to the speed of decision making needed. This is a capability that a lot of large firms have such as BMW in this example. But the smaller firms that often thrive on innovative, niche moves in the market place that normally fill the gap of bespoke products now will have to compete with larger firms having the capability of producing cheap bespoke products, to order, based on the database they have stored of parts and adaption of standard parts.
This is the ability to go further than the rapid prototyping and allows firms to actually produce the final product using the 3D printing method. This method of production has not been seen in the market place as a way of producing mass products due to restrictions around patents since the 1980’s and early 1990’s (see the article ‘3D Printers’, . http://www.mahalo.com/3d-printers/). However now the expiration of these patents are coming about there has been a shift in the thought process of production for the mass product markets that is summed up by Lipson (2011) in stating that “we are slap bang in the middle of a second industrial revolution”. Lipson goes on to argue that Additive manufacturing, developed and built from the basics of printing as shown by the timeline above will go on to “transform every aspect of our lives”.