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How 3D printing is changing manufacturing

Recently I was inspired by seeing what other people have done with 3D printing to buy my very own one. After having used it for very basic things like pen holders, I started making bigger things. While printing I began to wonder what the economic impact of this technology is. Since these printers aren’t as fast as a paper printer, I had quite some time to wonder.

First of all, it is hard to undersell how much this technology can help to prolong the life of a certain product. For example my vacuum cleaner: a few days a plastic part broke, which I made a model of and is printing while I am writing. This is not only good for the environment, but also for your wallet. Using online directories that are constantly growing like Thingiverse, you can also find replacement parts for numerous devices, without having to be an expert at 3D modeling.

The second major effect which will have a greater effect in the future due to the falling cost, is the way things will be priced in the future. Normally, due to an entry cost into a market, there forms an equilibrium of the number of suppliers that will make a product. However now everyone could be the producer of a product. This is hindering the development of different designs for 3D prints, since anyone could copy this design, and thus there is less economic incentive to develop designs.

Something that is also to be considered, is the way companies normally price their products. One of these ways is cost-based pricing, in which a company prices its product a bit above what it costs to make it. Companies in some types of markets like oligopolies and monopolies are not constrained by their competitors. As a result they can use value pricing, in which companies price their product as what they think people are willing to pay for their product. Companies that use this pricing model will, of course, be more influenced by 3D printing than others, since now everyone can make their product.

3D printing is removing the barrier to enter different production markets, like injection molding. Injection molding is the most common way to produce plastic products and can be very expensive. To injection mold, one must have an expensive metal mold, and a way to inject molten plastic. This does not mean that injection molding will disappear, this is clearly the way to go, if you want to produce things in bulk, mainly due to a much higher production speed, and being to able to create shapes that are not able to be produced with 3d printing (the same goes the other way around).

3D printing is most likely going to change how we consume, however we have a long way to go. I also think that this change will be gradual, as 3D printing becomes cheaper, and more people become familiar with the technology. Now it is just a nice way for some people to make a few things cheap.


This article was written by Max Kloosterman

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