The underestimated 3D printer contains three potentials

International Business News  –  Keiichi Murayama: It has been 10 years since the book “MAKERS” written by Chris Anderson, the former editor-in-chief of the American scientific journal “Wired”, was published and proposed that “the 3D printer revolution will occur”. Affected by the reactionary effect of the expected advance, with the intensification of negative voices such as “can only be used for trial production” and “only for personal entertainment”, public discussions have rapidly decreased in Japan.

However, with recent technological advancements, coupled with changing economic and social conditions, the importance of 3D printer has become more apparent. If Japan remains slow, it will miss opportunities. The author believes that 3D printer has three major potentials.

The first is the restructuring of the supply chain. The world has been hit by the COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, supply chains everywhere have been disrupted, and many companies have been thrown into chaos. There is a growing view that 3D printer is a powerful option as a means of securing parts.

The “AM Forward (AM = 3D printer)” initiative jointly proposed by the Biden administration in the United States and five large enterprises in May is a symbol. Believing that a solid supply chain is needed to curb inflation, the government will support companies that promote 3D printer-related equipment investment and skills education.

Markforged, an American start-up company involved in 3D printer, revealed that a German car manufacturer has used parts produced through 3D printer to maintain car production and tide over the difficulties.

Tadashi Nakayama, a professor at Nagaoka University of Technology in Japan, pointed out that “multi-tracking in countries where supply companies are located will lead to higher costs. A completely different approach is required, and 3D printer will be the key.”

Taking electronic components such as semiconductor relays as an example, the supply of the required plastic parts has stagnated and the supply is in short supply. “First 3D printer the temporary parts, and then supply them after the relays are produced. Then, when the regular parts are obtained, the relays are replaced,” professor Nakayama believes that this flexibility is very important.

The second focus of 3D printer is the upgrading of factories. In May, Germany’s BMW (BMW) announced that it had built an automated system for the production of metal parts for cars with the help of 3D printer. 3D printer is not a panacea, and coexistence with traditional manufacturing methods is indispensable. However, the adoption of 3D printer, which is highly compatible with artificial intelligence (AI) and sensor technology, will become a breakthrough for boldly adjusting the entire production process. It can be said that this is a case that brings inspiration to many manufacturing enterprises.

Instead of combining several components into one, if 3D printer is used, parts of any shape you want can be produced at one time. As long as you have a printer at hand, you don’t have to rely too much on external procurement, which can reduce the logistics of emitting greenhouse gases. In addition, perhaps safeguarding the rights of factory workers.

“Should the manufacturing of a human sea tactical nature be maintained? Advanced companies are thinking about automating large-scale assembly jobs (as heavy manual labor). 3D printer will contribute”, director of PwCconsulting Lu Yangtai appealed like this. This awareness of worker protection is prominent in Europe, but it is perhaps best to recognize that sooner or later this wave will ripple across the world.

The ESG (environmental, social, corporate governance) business philosophy has drawn attention to 3D printer and will continue to change the appearance of factories.

The third potential contained in 3D printer is the release of human creativity. Shai Terem, chief executive officer (CEO) of Markforged, said that a new generation that should be called “3D printer native” is on the rise.

Frito-Lay, a company owned by PepsiCo and famous for its potato chips, is one example. The jigs and tools used on the company’s production lines were previously ordered externally and using cutting to manufacture, but have now been 3D printed in-house. The time required to manufacture has been reduced from 2 weeks to 1 day, while the cost has dropped from $550 to $12.

The creator of the idea is a young engineer who is familiar with 3D printer. It has been decided to equip 35 factories in the United States with 3D printers. The mindset of making products that are not bound by precedent comes into play.

At present, one of the main battlefields for 3D printer companies to compete in technology is the space industry. This is a smart race to produce parts with unprecedented shapes, such as rockets. In the future, there will be a market for “products that can only be made by 3D printer”, and the era of makers’ full use of inspiration and intuition may come.

Compared with Europe and the United States, Japan is slow to act. This situation is hard to deny, but if you look closely, you will also find new shoots.

A visit to Seiko Epson’s office in Shiojiri City, Nagano Prefecture will reveal that 3D printers, which aim to be commercialized by 2023, are still in trial operation. We are looking for parts for final products such as automobiles and office equipment, using common materials for injection molding, etc. Toyota will apply to the final product into the field of vision, has introduced the United States Hewlett-Packard (HP) printers, the matter has been disclosed a few days ago.

The mitate project of Japanese startup support company quantum (based in Tokyo’s Minato Ward) is also interesting. The company 3D printer appliances designed by humans and AI. Unique shape and rich colors. The potential of 3D printers to expand the creator economy is felt by helping people looking to create entirely new products.

In addition, Nagaoka University of Technology has started the cultivation of “AM talents”. In the laboratory in the school, in addition to 3D printers, scanners and robots are also full. Professor Nakayama said that “I hope to cultivate talents who can be competent from design to manufacturing and quality assurance”, and he also emphasized that this is an attempt to determine whether the Japanese manufacturing industry can survive.

Although 3D printer is still in the process of development, it must be positioned as the core technology for the digital production line. If you insist on the concept of “niche technology that cannot be fully used for business” and refuse to take active action, you will regret it in the future.