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3D Printing At Home Manufacturing – A COVID19 Reality.
As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on global supply chains, the 3D printing at home manufacturing trend could soon become a reality.
The coronavirus pandemic closed many factories in China. There are good and not so good parts to that.
The good part is the drop in pollution, observed by NASA from space.
The bad part is the lack of products. As a critical manufacturer of parts, the closure of Chinese factories leaves a serious availability gap.
However, there is a solution to that. There are open-source digital designs ready to start the next revolution – 3D printing at home.
Free Designs For Anything
Open-source medical hardware models, in particular, to help with the pandemic, such as face shields, masks, and ventilators.
But free digital product designs go far beyond pandemic hardware.
Moreover, the cost of 3D printers has dropped low enough to be accessible to most customers.
People can download, customise, and start 3D printing at home remarkable ranges of products.
Not so long ago, the prevailing thinking in the industry was that the lowest-cost manufacturing was large, mass manufacturing in low-labour-cost countries like China.
Getting Smaller And Cheaper
At the time, in the early 2000s, only Fortune 500 companies and major research universities had access to 3D printers.
The machines were huge and expensive tools used to prototype parts and products.
A decade ago, the patents expired on the first type of 3D printing.
Thankfully, a professor in Britain had the intriguing idea of making an additive manufacturing printer that he could use to start 3D printing at home.
He started the RepRap project, short for ‘self-replicating rapid prototype’, and released the designs with open-source licenses on the web.
The designs spread like wildfire. Short after, the models were hacked and improved upon.
Thousands of engineers and hobbyists from all over the world formed communities interested in 3D printing at home.
Home Factory For Under £250
Many of these makers started their own companies to produce variants of these 3D printers.
The landscape grew, prices dropped, and now people can buy powerful 3D printers for less than USD 250.
Today’s 3D printers are full-fledged additive manufacturing robots, which build products one layer at a time.
Additive manufacturing is infiltrating in many industries.
My colleagues and I have observed clear trends as this technology threatens significant disruption to global value chains.
In general, companies are moving from using 3D printing for prototyping to adopting it to make products they need internally.
They’re also using 3D printing to move their manufacturing systems closer to customers.
In time, that will reduce the need for inventory and shipping.
3D Printing At Home – No Longer A Trend
Some customers have bought 3D printers and are now 3D printing at home the products for themselves. It is no longer a trend but a market shift.
Amazon now sells 3D printing filaments, the raw material for 3D printers, under “Amazon Basics” along with batteries and towels.
In general, people will save up to 99 per cent of the retail price of any product when they have it 3D printed at home.
We had expected that the adoption of 3D printing at home and the move toward distributed manufacturing would be a slow process.
But that assessment was before there was a real risk of products becoming unavailable as the coronavirus spread.
An excellent example of a sharp demand for 3D printed products is personal protective equipment (PPE).
The National Institutes of Health 3D Print Exchange, a relativity small design repository, has exploded with new PPE designs.
Covid-19 Impact on 3D Printing At Home
Because of the global impact of the coronavirus, 94 per cent of Fortune 1000 companies are having their supply chains disrupted.
Businesses dependent on global sourcing are facing hard choices. The value of industrial commodities continues to rise.
Coronavirus has put a significant dent on demands, as manufacturers shut down, and customers remain quarantined.
The new normal will see people having limited access to products while the costs will go up.
The disruptions to global supply chains caused by strict quarantines, stay-at-home orders, and other social distancing measures.
In industrialised nations around the world, this is a rare opportunity for distributed manufacturing to fill unmet needs.
Many people are likely, in short to medium term, to find some products unavailable or overly expensive.
However, they will be able to make the products they need with 3D printing at home technology.
Our research on the global value chains found that 3D printing with plastics, in particular, are well advanced.
Any product with a considerable number of polymer components, even if the parts are flexible, can be 3D printed.
More Than Just Plastics
Making functional toys and household products at home is easy, even for beginners.
So are adaptive aids for arthritis patients and other medical products and sporting goods like skateboards.
Metal and ceramic 3D printing is already available and expanding rapidly for a range of items.
From high-cost medical implants to rocket engines to improving simple bulk manufactured products with 3D printed brackets at low costs.
Printable electronics, pharmaceuticals, larger items of furniture, and even fashion, are starting to become available or will be soon.
These more advanced 3D printers could help accelerate the trend toward distributed manufacturing, even if they don’t end up in people’s homes.
There are some hurdles, particularly for consumer 3D printing.
Think Sustainable 3D Printing At Home
3D printing filament is itself subject to disruptions in global supply chains, although ‘recyclebot’ technology allows people to create threads from waste plastic.
Some metal 3D printers are still expensive, and the fine metal powder many of them use as raw material is potentially hazardous if inhaled.
Still, there are now $1,200 metal printers that use more available welding wire.
These innovative 3D printers that can work with organic materials require further development.
Moreover, there’s still a long way before all products and their components can be 3D printed at home.
When my colleagues and I initially analysed when products would be available for distributed manufacturing, we focused only on economics.
Coronavirus will continue to disrupt supply chains and hamper international trade.
In exchange, the rising demand for unavailable or costly products will speed up the transition to distributed manufacturing in the shape of 3D printing at home.
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