Six Core Advantages of Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing has proven to be a powerful technology, revolutionizing production processes and business models across numerous industries. As the advantages of additive manufacturing have become more tangible, its applications have skyrocketed over the last few years.

While 3D printing won't completely replace traditional manufacturing in the future, the technology's true strength comes into play when it is integrated with those conventional methods. After all, a simple error or delay on a production line can lead to big losses in both time and money. Integrating innovative technologies with additional benefits could be a worthy solution for any production line. This is all a part of responding to manufacturing industry change.

According to Jabil's latest 3D Printing Trends survey of over 300 decision-makers, additive manufacturing has positively impacted every stage of the product lifecycle. Most importantly, participants report that prototyping and design have been the most positively impacted by 3D printing applications, followed by production tooling and production.

Download the full survey report.

What part of the product lifecycle is the most positively impacted by 3D printing? Choose up to two of the following.

The benefits of additive manufacturing in the design and rapid prototyping phase are well-documented. There is a lot of work being done to develop the additive manufacturing process rigor and qualification so that its long-term capabilities and benefits will be more dependable.

3D printing gives product teams a chance to step back and focus on a system-level approach rather than component-level thinking. This enhanced production process isn't ultimately about replacing a functional part; it's about creating a better overall design. Product-makers typically find six advantages to additive manufacturing:

  • Accelerated time-to-market   
  • Distributed manufacturing   
  • Supply chain consolidation   
  • Design freedom   
  • Mass customization   
  • Low- and mid-volume production  

1. Enable an Accelerated Time-to-Market

All companies face challenges with accelerating new product introduction (NPI), being first to market and quickly responding to personalization and customization needs. Because additive manufacturing doesn't require cumbersome tools or mold revisions, the time and costs associated with production change-over are eliminated.

In Jabil's 3D Printing Technology Trends survey, 66% of respondents said that a significant advantage they expect to gain from additive manufacturing is delivering parts faster. Rather than creating designs to be shipped as parts, additive manufacturing allows companies to print parts at point-of-need so they can be assembled into other products quickly and effectively. There are no shipping or packaging costs when running production this way. It's about building to production rather than building to inventory.

Decision-makers are more confident today that they will deliver parts faster from the mass adoption of 3D printing than in 2019.

A significant advantage of an accelerated time-to-market through 3D printing is reducing prototyping costs. When a designer creates a prototype, they can easily print the product, test it, record flaws and make changes on the computer, so the new and improved product is ready the next day, whereas producing a functional prototype with a traditional manufacturing method can take weeks or months because of the additional steps and machines needed.

ABB Robotics, a global leader in power and automation technologies, reduced prototype production times of their complex robotic fingers from five weeks to as little as one hour using 3D printing. These unprecedented levels of time-savings make additive manufacturing a very attractive technology to implement.

Conducting a physical demonstration of a new product with 3D printing will not leave customers and investors to imagine a product's appearance and capabilities with the risk of misunderstanding or false hope. For instance, a Phoenix-based company, Local Motors, showed up at the North American International Auto Show without an automobile design; instead, they arrived with a 3D printer and printed the product live for attendees to see.

Overall, accelerated time-to-market with 3D printing helps with the speed of new product introductions, improves customer satisfaction and encourages new manufacturing and supply chain processes like distributed manufacturing.

2. Reduce Storage and Inventory Costs with Distributed Manufacturing

With distributed manufacturing, companies can design in one location and manufacture in another closer to the customer, eliminating the need for storage and reducing inventory costs. When coupled with 3D printing, distributed manufacturing can help replace an often inefficient "make-to-stock" with a "make-to-order" model.

We've seen distributed manufacturing become an essential method for businesses, especially during the pandemic. Healthcare and medical device OEMs had to reduce their dependence on global supply chains and logistic costs and rely on distributed manufacturing to produce products in short supply like ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE). Several large additive manufacturing companies cited production speed and distributed manufacturing as key enablers in the fight against COVID-19.

When additive manufacturing is applied appropriately, the potential to advance manufacturing supply structures will only improve. 3D printing paired with distributed manufacturing can help industries create a more efficient, sustainable and transparent supply chain.

3. Allot Time for Design Flexibility with a Consolidated Supply Chain

Additive manufacturing technology enables OEMs to produce fewer components within a single product, reducing the inventory significantly. 3D printing allows you to manufacture products without tooling and to consolidate assemblies into single parts. It's a huge advantage that additive manufacturing holds over traditional processes.

Additive manufacturing helped Jabil's Auburn Hills site achieve a 30% price reduction in the cost of tooling and an 80% decrease in time to produce final tools and fixtures. The design freedom resulted in a faster turnaround time that enabled engineers to deliver better results more quickly.

The simple process of sending a computer-aided design (CAD) file to a computer and printing the file means that in the time it takes to make one iteration with traditional manufacturing, almost 20 iterations can be completed with 3D printing, improving time to market.

The fact that 3D printing can shrink a component from 60 individual parts to just five has a massive trickle-down effect throughout your supply chain. For example, Hewlett Packard's (HP) 500 Series 3D printer's original cooling duct was made of separate pieces, but with 3D printing, they could consolidate it into one, reducing their costs by 30%. The innovation didn't stop there; for their 12000 Digital Press commercial printer, engineers shrunk parts to only 21 3D-printed parts resulting in an 80% cost savings and 91% assembly reduction.

HP harnessed the force of 3D printing and because of it, they saved costs, reduced their Bill of Materials (BOM) and obligated more time to design new products.

4. Encourage Fresh Innovation with More Design Freedom

To really take advantage of additive manufacturing as a tool, you need to leverage the design freedom. Design for additive manufacturing is unique in its methods compared to designing through traditional manufacturing. For example, 3D printing allows OEMs to design complex geometry variations in three dimensions, which is impossible to do through traditional manufacturing processes.

Consider lattice structures; they are high strength accompanied by relatively low mass, making their complex structure difficult to produce. Injection molding works for single solid pieces, but when the lattice is introduced, it breaks down. Machining can also work, but it costs more when materials must be replaced. With additive technologies, there is a higher capability to construct complicated lattice designs at a lower price point.

The ability to design any structure with 3D printing gives designers the freedom to think of the part they want to manufacture in relation to the entire product. This allows them to see if there are new and different ways to efficiently combine several parts into one at no cost, no additional tooling, re-fixturing or fabrication time.

In a previous Jabil survey on 3D printing trends, 57% of engineers said they were delighted with the increased design freedom, 50% said the new processes and approaches increased creativity and 34% said it increased pride in workmanship.

What engineers said about the advantages of additive manufacturing in a 2019 Jabil survey:

increased design freedom
increased creativity with new methods
increased pride in workmanship

3D printing can help your company become more innovative with distribution models and it will drive more opportunities for collaboration and mass customization.

5. Enhance Your Customer Experience with Mass Customization

Consumers want products customized for them and don't want to wait long to get it. The Internet, combined with additive manufacturing capabilities, is changing the way companies produce products for the consumer. For some companies, consumers can log into their website—spanning across various industries—and design a custom product with the exact colors and materials they want and receive the product within a week. Made-to-order products minimize the costs that come with warehousing, shipping and eventually disposing of end-of-life products. Mass customization is a significant trend; it's also a considerable advantage of 3D printing that benefits the company and the consumer.

Additive manufacturing unlocks new possibilities for customization because it does not require expensive tooling changes based on consumers' preferences. Several industries have already implemented 3D printing for mass customization. For example, the footwear industry leverages 3D printing to design and produce shoes. Footwear company, Superfeet, went from creating custom footwear in an hour to 15-25 minutes by utilizing digital manufacturing and 3D printing.

The automotive industry has also adopted 3D printing for mass customization, specifically for the luxury segment. For example, BMW launched a service that allows customers to choose from a list of different patterns and finishes they can use to customize car parts. After customers submit their request, the parts are 3D-printed on demand. Porsche introduced a similar service for customizing vehicle seats.

A significant challenge for mass customization with 3D printing is mass-producing customized products on a larger scale. Enhancements in printing speed could be a major solution to this problem.

Despite this challenge, additive manufacturing technology is still a massive driver for mass customization and personalization; it's cost-effective and enables companies to give their customer more say in how a product looks and functions.

In this era of personalization and customization, the ability to quickly deliver a low-volume production run cost-effectively has become a business requirement.

6. Meet Demands for Low- and Mid-Volume Production

Some companies are limited by the costs and logistics of manufacturing and delivering low- and mid-volume production batches; 3D printing can alleviate that.

With the combined benefits of faster time-to-market, innovative designs and materials, distributed manufacturing and production, and on-demand and on-location production, companies can meet customer demand for low- and mid-volume production batches.

Meeting low-and mid-volume demands provides companies with more options for bridge production. In 2021, 56% of survey respondents say that they use additive manufacturing for bridge production, a 17% increase since 2019. Bridge production will give companies more time to produce new products and streamline best practices while furthering cost savings.

If you consider additive manufacturing an appropriate fit for your business, you'll need to weigh the options of executing 3D printing in-house or through a partner. Although 50% of our survey respondents asserted that they plan to keep additive manufacturing primarily in-house, roughly three out of 10 predict that their companies will use an even mix of manufacturing in-house and outsourcing.

Which of the following best describes your plans for how you will conduct most 3D printing moving forward?

When implemented effectively, additive manufacturing can significantly reduce material waste, inventory, the number of production steps and distinct parts needed for an assembly.

Overall, additive manufacturing pushes engineers and designers to use their imaginations to find new solutions. 3D printing will lead to more competitive product designs, novel use of additive materials and more effective innovation.

It's time to rethink your long-term manufacturing strategies and consider the tools that will help your company reap these benefits of additive manufacturing.

Download the 3D Printing Technology Trends Report

Jabil's third biennial report includes insights from over 300 individuals responsible for decisions around 3D printing at manufacturing companies on technology adoption, opportunities and challenges.