How Automation Can Unlock Mass Customization
Additive manufacturing (AM) is no longer in its early stages. It's become more accessible and affordable than ever, changing the traditional approach to product prototyping to lend manufacturers, product designers, startups, and other innovators new production power.
But what's next? The industry has seen the beginnings of AM used to enable mass customization, and 3D-printing automation will make this a reality starting in 2023. 3D printing enables rapid prototyping and end-use part iteration at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional manufacturing.
The ease of use and accessibility have extended 3D printing adoption beyond the manufacturing industry, with companies in medical, automotive, dental, scientific, aerospace, and other industries implementing the technology into their workflows. They deliver custom products with varying results, whether it be unique automotive parts, patient-specific medical devices, or innovative jewelry designs.
Customization is already happening, and the beginnings of mass customization are evident with toymaker Hasbro Inc.'s Selfie Series. The company uses Formlabs 3D printers to deliver their latest innovation to consumers: collector-grade, six-inch action figures of fan-favorite characters from G.I. JOE, Ghostbusters, Power Rangers and more created in their likeness. This is an industry first for customized, 3D-printed toys, and it shows the beginnings of how mass customization with AM can catch consumers’ attention and enable connection with a brand.
Mass-customized consumer products are the next step for advancing AM, but 3D printing needs a capacity upgrade before this can happen. Despite widespread adoption, mass customization via 3D printing has been held back as it requires hands-on operation throughout the print cycle.
While designed to be easy to use, 3D printers need personnel to remove parts, replace cartridges, and manage queues. Customization requires increased autonomous production, where more unique parts are produced to deliver a unique object, toy, or device at a higher volume.
To do this, companies need automation to streamline the workflow and reduce production slowdowns. The labor and time hurdles have now been removed, allowing manufacturers to streamline their workflow and enable continuous production to usher in a wave of mass customization.
There are three main elements to 3D-printing automation that will make affordable mass customization a reality. The first is automatic part removal. 3D printers aren't beholden to normal business hours, and jobs can run from a few minutes to days. Hands-on part removal leaves printing time on the table between jobs if no one is on the clock to remove parts, increasing costs and stalling production timelines. To speed up the production for mass custom-part production, automatic part removal accelerates the production of mass-customized parts by reducing the labor required between jobs.
Automatic part removal dovetails with printer management. Now that production schedules are enabled to run past business hours, over the weekend, or even miles away from users working off-site, users need access to their 3D printers—or fleet of 3D printers—from anywhere. The ability to centralize queue management and automate printer assignments will optimize production, performance, and printer efficiency, and enable companies to continuously produce custom parts with less downtime.
Increasing production and reducing interruptions with hands-off part removal and remote management is critical for producing custom parts, but these improvements can only go as far as a 3D printer's material capacity. To print more custom parts without interruption, 3D printers also require increased resin capacity to create more parts with fewer interruptions for cartridge replacements.
Automated 3D printing is the key to unlocking mass customization as the next game-changing impact AM will have on manufacturing and consumer products. With continuous production, manufacturers, startups, and product designers can build upon 3D printing's accessibility, flexibility, and affordability to deliver mass customized products.
Connect With UsGary Rowe