Whether you’re an established brand looking to get a new product model into the market, a startup trying to prove a concept for investors, or an innovator selling through a crowdfunding campaign, speed to market is a priority. Any tool that can speed the innovation, design, tooling, manufacturing and fulfillment processes is hugely valuable and can be the difference between success a failure of your product launch and your ability to meet your business goals.
Now, more than ever, innovators are seeking ways to get their product ideas into the hands of consumers. Technologies like augmented and virtual reality are used to simulate three dimensional versions of computer generated designs, but having a 3D model delivers touch and feel beyond a visual simulation. The idea of brainstorming a design in the morning and printing and sharing a prototype or model in the afternoon is hugely attractive in speeding up the innovation process and getting the basics of a new product development underway.
In a traditional manufacturing environment, each iteration of a design is passed to production, or outsourced to a third-party vendor, and returned several days later. Then that version would be studied, tested and modified to generate the next version of the design. In many cases a small run of prototypes would be made and shared with a team all around the world. All this adds considerable time to the design process, discourages multiple iterations and sometimes promotes compromise. With additive manufacturing, particularly when it is on site, several iterations can be printed in one day. If there are printers in multiple locations those designs can be quickly shared with the team by simply sharing data, rather than waiting for shipments.
If volumes are high enough this can mean tooling is needed. Additive manufacturing can be a very economic accelerator of the tooling process. Now multiple versions of tooling, rather than of designs are used to speed up the whole process and once a tooling design is proved it can be manufactured in the traditional way. In some cases, particularly when volumes are not so high, 3D printed tools might be the appropriate solution. When the volume needed is lower, products can be launched using additive manufacturing in production.
New machine designs, new processes and new materials are key to these developments and a time where multiple printers are deployed in many locations delivering products to local consumers is not too far away. Additive manufacturing can cut time from the manufacturing process, and can offer a viable solution to bringing products or versions to market that may not have the volume demands needed to justify gearing up for traditional manufacturing. In short, thanks to additive manufacturing, we might see products, or versions of products, reach the consumer that might not have been launched in a traditional manufacturing world. These limited editions create additional opportunities for the brands too.
It offers the potential for on-demand distributed manufacturing. Complete a design one day in California and manufacturing the next day or even the same day in any other part of the world. Today consumers want products immediately, and failure to compete on speed to market can result in someone else winning that business. What’s more consumer want custom products and again additive here is the ultimate solution. The lot, or batch size, for additive manufacturing is always one. There is never a batch of 5,000, just 5,000 batches of one. That means that each product can be unique or customized and still delivered at the same speed and cost.
So, in an additive manufacturing utopia you can ideate on Monday using additive manufacturing to prove a concept, design on Tuesday and use additive manufacturing to finesse and share the design, tool on Wednesday for manufacturing, launch on Thursday, and mass customized, build to order and ship locally on Friday. Ok, so launching a product in a week might be a tall order, but many have used additive to move product development cycles down from months to weeks, and the dividends are clear.
Market windows are shorter than ever, and continue to shrink. Product volumes are unpredictable and consumers increasingly fickle. The desire to personalize, or customization is growing. These trends continue to challenge startups and brands alike. Innovation in products requires innovation in processes.
Additive manufacturing is the process innovation that will accelerate the entire product life cycle and shorten time to market.
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