Additive manufacturing is making its way into the industry as an alternative to modern automation processes. The popularity and efficiency of 3-D printing technology is beginning to look enticing for some companies. According to TechTarget, some companies are beginning to "print" parts of their products for easy assembly, and this technology will provide new ways for businesses to fulfill manufacturing quotas while simultaneously cutting down on waste.
One of the advantages of using 3-D printing technology in the production process is that it is considered highly efficient due to additive processes producing little or no waste during manufacturing. The 3-D printers create the items being made by printing layers of a gel form of material, which solidifies into an object. Thus, the term "additive" comes from the combining of these layers into one solid thing. Custom, unique and one-off items are all great candidates for being created through the use of additive manufacturing.
Technology Review noted in 2013 that some manufacturers were already using the additive technology for niche items like medical implants and plastic prototypes for engineers and designers. Recently, according to 3DPrint.com, General Electric started using additive techniques to develop fuel nozzle interiors for its jet engines - a huge step for the technology. GE also announced late last year a $32 million dollar additive manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania.
The downside to 3-D printing technology is that one printer can only create one unique part slowly, whereas modern automated manufacturing processes create many products quickly and simultaneously. That is changing with the entrance of GE and other large manufacturers into the field, but only time will tell if the adoption of these practices will overtake traditional modern manufacturing or simply coexist with it.
Companies thinking about making the shift to 3-D manufacturing for at least some of their processes should consider investing in software and technology that will allow business processes like inventory management to be streamlined and easier in the long run. No matter how your products are created, it's important to be able to track them in the warehouse and through the supply chain. Using mobile data collection solutions along with your current enterprise resource planning system to track and trace products will help the 3-D printed items get to where they need to go - in the warehouse and beyond