Sep 4, 2021

Barclays: Could Additive Manufacturing Advance Industry 4.0

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Manufacturing Global takes a look at Barclays’ three key points for understanding how additive manufacturing could transform the manufacturing industry

Advanced technologies like IoT, big data, and artificial intelligence (AI), are reshaping industrial manufacturing; driving improvements in productivity and automation.

As priorities shift to sustainability, speed-to-market, and supply chain resiliency, additive manufacturing (3D printing) has “the potential to transform manufacturing as we know it,” said Barclays. The technology could expand design freedom, reduce time to market, bring production closer to demand, and improve industrial sustainability.  

Barclays outlines three key points for understanding how additive manufacturing could transform the US$14trn global manufacturing industry. 

1. Traditional Manufacturing Impedes Innovation, Sustainability and Supply Chain Resiliency

“Technology has paved the way for smarter factories and supply chains, but what has not changed is the need to mould, mill, bend and stamp raw materials. These manufacturing processes not only involve expensive multi-part assembly and specialised tooling, they also limit design freedom and generate excessive waste,” explained Barclays.

Alongside this, Barclays reflects on the growing emphasis on sustainability and innovation which is causing the need for a to revamp of manufacturing and product design; COVID-19 has laid bare the shortcomings of traditional manufacturing with complex and far-flung supply chains. 

Surveying 700 US manufacturing professionals, 25% said they had to change their supply chain as a result of the pandemic, with seven industries ranking additive manufacturing in the top three technologies taking priority for investment post-COVID.

2. Additive Manufacturing Represents a Paradigm Shift in Design, Manufacturing, and Distribution

By creating objects layer by layer via additive manufacturing, manufacturers gain greater design freedom with the added benefit of little to no added cost for greater complexity, as well as less waste overall. 

“It can create lighter, better performing, greener and potentially cheaper industrial products, all with enhanced operational flexibility, speed-to-market, plant productivity and supply chain resiliency,” said Barclays.

“The COVID-19 pandemic offered a preview of AM’s potential. Various industries were able to leverage their distributed AM networks to quickly jump-start production of medical equipment amid supply chain disruptions,” added Barclays. 

Other benefits of additive manufacturing include:

  • Advanced designs and decentralised manufacturing
  • Facilitate lightweight vehicle designs to boost efficiency and extend the range
  • Replace spare part inventories with digitised part libraries
  • On-location production in remote locations

“Although AM is not new, using it to produce durable end-use products is. The global AM market has grown at about 25% CAGR since 2015 but remains below US$15bn by most estimates. This represents about 0.10% of the global manufacturing industry, signalling tremendous upside potential,” said Barclays.

3. Industrialised Additive Manufacturing isn’t Hype, but Adoption for Mass Production Could Take Decades

AM has not been immune to the emerging tech hype cycle. High hopes that 3D printers would become household appliances in the early 2010s fizzled on account of AM’s limitations at the time, leaving a scar for some investors,” Commented Barclays.

However, the technology has made considerable progress, proving to be a useful solution for low-volume production and mass customisation of industrial-grade parts. 

“Manufacturers are using it to develop custom tooling and assembly aids at factories, while the medical industry is turning to AM to print implants, prosthetics and other devices tailored to patient needs,” added Barclays.

Despite this additive manufacturing continues to face hurdles when it comes to broader adoption for mass production. “Manufacturers can achieve greater economies of scale using traditional manufacturing methods, and AM poses unique reliability challenges because it often entails creating new parts and new materials at the same time.”

The most likely scenario for adoption going forward is that additive manufacturing will complement traditional manufacturing, as oppose to replacing it. It is expected that the technology will close the gap with traditional manufacturing and expand its influence on the industry.

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