3D printing allows higher product performance and mass customization in real time, without assembly and without storage. Faster and faster it substitutes conventional production. Therefore, companies must now review their competitive strategies.
The reorientation can lead to in-sourcing, innovation and digital platforms. Will soon Amazon, Apple, and Google dominate the global production?
3D printing, or additive manufacturing, allows higher product performance through finer and more complex structures within a component. The material may have finest, different porosities, bionic structures, high integration, and a material mix within a small space within components with external dimensions of many meters. More and more material, such as plastics, plastic waste, resins, metals, ceramics, cement, composites, glass, and food is built up in layers.
3D printing has substituted many conventional series productions, for example for machine parts, spare parts, wear parts, and fashion. Although it often results in higher unit costs than conventional production, nevertheless total costs are often lower when the potentials of lean flexibility are exploited. The substitution of conventional mass production accelerates. Complete 3D printing factories arose. The share of sales of industrial 3D printers to automated production systems is increasing, in the United States for example from about 30% today to more than 40% in 2020. The number of patents on 3D printing is growing annually by about 50%.
Often companies try out the possibilities of 3D printing. This is the first step. But this is not sufficient for the foreseeable shifts in the competition. These require a robust competitive strategy and a high speed of implementation. Additionally, today`s business processes of 3D printing are not exactly lean.
For a robust competitive strategy entrepreneurial questions about market, resources, and competition need to be answered. Some examples: Will we create additional demand and margin through real-time individualized products of high performance? How important are product quality and handling? What impact have warranty and product liability? How to design the order process? What is the best technology or combination of technologies – without or with industry 4.0? Where are 3D printers to be located? Is the value chain to be restructured? How business processes are managed? Who sets the digital standards? Are new competitors entering the market? Will digital platforms and fragmented manufacturing arise? With robust responses specific competitive strategies can be developed.
For the usual stepwise implementation speed matters. For example within an industry injection molding was completely substituted in less than two years. If product performance, production output, quality, and costs make problems or need performance leaps, the root cause must be uncovered quickly for a sustainable and efficient solution. To achieve this enabling methodologies are Statistical Engineering for optimizations and Innovation Engineering for innovation of products and processes.
Trials, competitive strategy, implementation speed and lean business processes are key success factors for introduction of 3D printing.