The last 30 years has seen Australia’s manufacturing industry undergo a series of challenges. Rising labour costs and stricter working conditions have prompted the manufacturing industry to turn to technology and offshoring to mitigate rising costs. As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the manufacturing industry is once again diversifying, leading digital transformation by integrating smarter, connected data technology in day-to-day operations. By Mike Boyle.

At the forefront of advanced manufacturing is 3D printing. According to International Data Corporation. (IDC), by 2022 worldwide 3D printing spending is expected to hit close to $37.4bn. Through its ability to produce personalised products, shorten supply chains and promote sustainable practices, 3D printing is leading the charge of advanced manufacturing through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a new era for our industry marked by the blending of digital and physical worlds.

Custom creation

Constant feedback loops, incorporating consumer comments into product design, have raised the expectation for products and services that are designed for segments of one; treating customers as an individual rather than as similar segments. No longer can businesses be ignorant of customer preferences and apply a broad-brush approach to achieve success. Rather, businesses must lean into the era of personalisation, creating bespoke products and services.

The adoption of 3D printing allows manufacturers to create data-derived products faster and cheaper compared to traditional manufacturing processes. For example, iOrthotics, a Queensland-based supplier of custom orthotic devices, has built its business on designing and manufacturing stronger, lighter and more accurate orthic devices through 3D printing. iOrthotics uses 3D scanning to determine the shoe size, arch and heel type of a customer’s foot, creating custom orthotics that provide improved support and comfort. By combining customer data and 3D printing processes iOrthotics has been able to triple its output from producing 30 orthotic devices per day to producing 90.

Additionally, SmileDirectClub, a global orthodontic supplier, uses 3D scanning and printing to create customised clear aligners that gradually shifts teeth into desired positions. By printing aligners specific to a customer’s smile, SmileDirectClub saves customers up to 60% of the cost and time of traditional orthodontic procedures. Due to the success of SmileDirectClub’s customised aligners, they have doubled their investment in 3D printing, anticipating the production of 20 million moulds over the next 12 months. Thanks to 3D printing, the time and costs of customised production are significantly reduced.

Streamlined production

By decentralising production, 3D printing has the potential to bring the manufacturing industry closer to home, improving time-to-market and removing the reliance on transportation. By printing modules in one 3D process close to where the product is being consumed, rather than assembling several components offshore, 3D printing shortens and simplifies traditional supply chains. For instance, in the coming years a 3D printer will sit on a mine site waiting to instantly print any parts that break, removing the time and costs associated with manufacturing and shipping. This is unlike typical manufacturing supply chains that involve a producer, supplier and manufacturer.

Shorter and simpler supply chains also mean businesses are afforded access to rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping fosters innovation by enabling quick and cost-effective trial & error processes. By removing the need for tooling, 3D printing allows unlimited freedom and flexibility during the design of customised products. As such, an Australian designer can create highly-personalised designs and have their product manufactured in Australia rather than offshore, saving Australian businesses time and money.

Sustainable manufacturing

Beyond boosting productivity, 3D printing also helps organisations meet the rising social and environmental consciousness of consumers. Research from HP Australia found that 71% of consumers are willing to pay extra for sustainable products. This figure is even higher among business, with 77% willing to pay a premium. Amid rising awareness for Australia’s environmental regulations, not least of which include the Government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% by 2030, governments and organisations will need to implement more environmentally responsible practices and measures.

Manufacturing organisations have already began leveraging 3D printing to reduce environmental impacts and costs. HP’s large-format division redesigned parts of the Latex 1500 printer, leading to a 75% cost reduction in part development, a part weight reduction of 88%, and a consolidation of parts reducing waste and energy. Similarly, iOrthotics, by printing to exact specifications and printing in one-module units, has also minimised its wastage output to less than 1%, compared with traditional subtractive techniques that typically waste 90% or more of the material required to manufacture orthotics.

As advanced manufacturing leads the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it’s important manufacturers are smarter in how they produce, store and deliver products. As the digital and physical worlds continue to blend, the importance of incorporating customer input, addressing growing social and environmental concerns, all while continuing to drive profitable growth, will be become more critical than ever.

Michael Boyle is the Managing Director for HP Australia and New Zealand.