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IT Challenge: Using 3D printing in manufacturing

In this IT Challenge, learn how 3D printing technology can be used by manufacturers.

The IT Challenge of the Month for May 2013:

I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz lately around 3D printing. How viable an option is 3D printing for manufacturers? Can we successfully leverage the technology now, or is it still too new to have real ROI?

Do you have a solution to this challenge? Have you encountered a similar issue at your business? If so, please contact the editors and share your suggestions or experiences. 

IT Challenge respondents will receive a free copy of a new book from SAP Press.

And be sure to check back here all this month -- we'll be posting solutions from experts and readers as we receive them.


From Dylan Persaud, managing director at Eval-Source:

We see 3D printing to be of tremendous benefits to engineering type firms that need to produce prototypes and working models. This is especially important for manufacturers that are afraid of losing their IP when outsourcing is done abroad. As for the small to midmarket manufacturing firms, 3D printing can greatly reduce the cost of entry of tooling and producing prototypes, which is a major expense in new product creation. The manufacturing of products can be done easily outside of your company in order to reduce costs, and this is a great way to protect IP.   

At the present, we see 3D printing in terms of not creating an ROI for a manufacturing company due to the cost of materials, time and constraints that it currently poses to produce one unit. This can get costly due to the time to create one working piece. 3D printing is great for engineering, firms, architectural firms, computer hardware manufacturers, electronic manufacturers, specialty parts and others in a wide range of industries. It offers companies an avenue to create virtually anything, giving them the flexibility to innovate more using the same resources, as it can easily be used as proof of concept pieces.        

From industry expert and author Steve Phillips:

Today, 3D printing is definitely a viable option for many manufacturers, primarily depending on the application. However, like any new technology that is moving from the "latest buzz phase" to an accelerating rate of adoption, the initial costs will decrease significantly over the next few years. The potential pitfalls in a manufacturing setting is the reliability of the technology and long-term system maintenance and support costs.

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Currently, you can build your own 3D printer using the open souce RepRap designs for between $300 and $500 USD each. Richard Horne and I recently wrote "3D Printing for Dummies" for Wiley to discuss the types fo 3D Printers and their impacts on the world, as well as to examine the process of building your own 3D Printer.
It's great for prototyping components and printing your own replacement parts for items. Instead of getting an injection molded model you can now 3d print your own at a significant cost savings. This is after the initial cost of the printer. If you need a few a year it may not be a good ROI, but if you need a few a week , get one.