3D printing

Could 2016 be the tipping point for the manufacturing industry?

By: Damian Hennessey, commercial director, Proto Labs
Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 11:33 GMT Jump to Comments

The manufacturing industry is currently facing scrutiny from parties concerned for its survival. Far from facing a decline, however, it could instead be on the verge of a technological renaissance.

It is fair to say that the manufacturing industry appears to have had an uninspiring start to the year. Manufacturing in the UK is “close to stagnation”, a study by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has suggested. Cited causes for this current decline include a decrease in domestic and export sales, as well as the falling prices of manufactured goods and competition from low-wage economies such as China.

But it’s worth noting that the country is still among the world’s ten biggest manufacturing nations, enjoying particular success in the automotive and aerospace sectors. Boosting manufacturing output is clearly high on the agenda of governments across Europe and beyond.

The British Government is facing a call from the BCC to make 2016 a “year of action”. The Chancellor, George Osborne, recently made a visit to the Siemens plant in Berlin to celebrate the strong joint manufacturing heritage of Britain and Germany. The US will be Partner Country at manufacturing trade show Hannover Messe for the first time this year, with President Obama set to attend alongside Chancellor Merkel. With all eyes turning to Europe as the traditional heart of global manufacturing, it’s now time to consider ways of rejuvenating the industry and making 2016 a turning point in its fortunes.

Changing customer demands

If the industry hopes to recover from the doldrums in which it currently finds itself, there will need to be wider acceptance of how customer demands have changed. Speed to market is now everything; to keep up with this rapidly accelerating pace, manufacturers must find ways of achieving fast production times without compromising on quality.

Many UK manufacturers have been required to offshore their manufacturing base in the past to ensure rapid production of parts while keeping their operational costs to a minimum. Embracing new advanced manufacturing techniques, however, such as custom injection moulding, CNC machining and additive manufacturing, will enable manufacturers to re-shore their base back to the UK.Technologies such as these allow manufacturers to deliver fast mass customisation, at a low cost, at home and closer to their customers. 

Additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, is becoming an increasingly popular option for short production runs. The ability to print multiple components at the same time offers a measurable economy of scale, and its benefits are self-evident when it comes to intricate, complex geometrical shapes demanding great dimensional tolerances. The technology is especially effective when a product requires a tailored bespoke element, such as ergonomically functional grips, or medical implants.

Manufacturing renaissance

The manufacturing industry is undergoing a digital revolution with new business models built around customer demand, production speed, and enhanced software programming. As mass production revolutionised the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, so the 21st century should be set to enjoy a new age of mass customisation made possible by 3D CAD software and on-demand manufacturing solutions.

Technological advances continue to streamline efficiencies and lower costs, and developments in big data and autonomous systems are enabling manufacturers to explore entirely new ways of doing business. The most successful manufacturers in the 21st century will be those who embrace a revolutionary, high-tech fusion of software and mechanical engineering, automated processes and complex production equipment, 3D CAD models, and rapidly produced on-demand parts.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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