The Business Case for Using Additive Parts as Your End-Product

Experimentation and exploration are the hallmarks of innovation. They’re also made more viable for businesses through additive manufacturing. 

Additive manufacturing has long been used and respected as a vital technology within research and development. In particular, 3D printing techniques help product designers validate their ideas through rapid prototyping; this makes it possible to iterate quickly and refine designs within a highly compressed timeline. But the benefits of additive manufacturing don’t end in the world of R&D. In fact, many of its advantages – think flexibility, agility, innovation – are the aspirations of most businesses. Beyond this, the layer by layer composition of additively manufactured parts offers far greater design freedom. The opportunity here? To completely transform the nature of what products can be created. Yet, despite the potential offered by additive as a manufacturing method, still a surprisingly small number of businesses have seized the opportunity to use additively manufactured parts as their end-product.

The Potential of Additive Beyond R&D

For product-based businesses to harness the benefits of additive manufacturing, we need to think beyond the context of the R&D sector. The advantages of additive are best understood in comparison with traditional manufacturing methods such as plastic injection moulding. Injection moulding is a common manufacturing process used to create small plastic parts in high volumes. Significant set up is needed to facilitate injection moulding, this means cost and time for a business. As a result, this process only becomes cost effective when economies of scale are involved. Minimum order quantities (MOQ) are nearly always a pre-requisite and, depending on the location of manufacture, MOQs could be quite high. Not only is cost a consideration, but risk becomes a lot more influential here: to invest in tooling a business must be confident in their return. Additive manufacturing offers a fresh alternative whereby shorter production runs and smaller batches can be produced more cost-effectively, with no set-up costs. For a product-based business, this lowers the risk associated with innovation by making it easier to experiment with smaller (or limited edition) product ranges. The upshot of this is that businesses can respond much more dynamically to their customer base and engage with innovation far more regularly.

Beyond this, the availability of a wide range of 3D printing technologies across the UK makes it far easier for businesses to create a more local supply chain. This provides an opportunity for businesses to reduce the carbon footprint associated with the end-product (along with transportation costs and import fees) therefore helping businesses manage and minimise their impact on the planet.

Creating Products that Connect

The adoption of 3D printed parts across the medical and healthcare sectors is largely due to the near limitless customisation potential. This is one of the most ground-breaking aspects of additive manufacturing which has led to customisation on an entirely different level to that previously imagined; this is of particular value for products with a fit-to-body requirement. When working with startups and businesses looking to develop new products one comment comes up repeatedly: the user must know, instinctively what to do with the product when it’s placed in their palms. Additive manufacturing techniques can help deliver deeper, intuitive connection to a product’s shape, form and touch. By making customisation more economically viable, businesses can also create smaller product ranges designed for specific user groups, this could be a hand-held product tailored to those with arthritis, for example. Traditional manufacturing methods are effective for mass-manufactured products, but a one-size fits all approach is being increasingly left behind.

This leads to the question, where does the reluctance lie? In its earlier years, the quality of 3D printed parts was deemed lower than conventional production-grade parts. However, this story has evolved, and is still evolving, at pace. Additive technologies have advanced considerably in recent years and this quality gap is closing fast. Maybe it’s time we challenged this notion of quality too; 3D printed parts will inevitably look and feel different in the hand (with FDM (Fuse Deposition Modelling) for example, material is deposited layer by layer and so small layer lines may be visible) but in numerous cases this can actually complement and enhance the product itself – especially for sustainable, personal products.

What’s more, investment into additive manufacturing is ongoing which means new possibilities and technologies are being developed all the time. For forward-thinking businesses looking to expand their product range, using additively manufactured parts as the end-product could provide a wonderful opportunity to do something different.




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