Additive manufacturing (AM) is on the path to change how products are developed, produced and delivered to consumers. A concourse of enhanced processes, materials, and digital workflows will accelerate the growth AM. AM can eliminate the need for product-specific tooling and can build highly complex geometries that consolidate multiple parts, are more material-efficient, and combine materials in previously impossible ways. By producing highly varied parts on-demand, AM can reduce both production cost and lead time and, potentially, streamline supply chains.
Already the consumer goods industry has benefited from 3D printing technologies such as rapid prototyping; with overwhelming improvements in the 3D printing technology both in terms of new and advanced 3D printers and materials, we will see a huge shift towards more direct manufacturing of consumer products in the coming years.
Rise of additive manufacturing in consumer markets
The rise of Additive Manufacturing market (source: Lux Research)
Additive manufacturing is beginning to influence how products are tailored and delivered to the customer. Eventually, consumer-oriented industries may use AM to realize any combination of product complexity, customization, and volume.
Additive manufacturing has the potential to bring mass customization into production. At present, limitations to cost, quality, and aesthetics such as the inability to print multicolour parts or colour parts with sufficiently smooth surface finish prevent the rapid spread of AM into consumer goods and the infusion of new product capabilities using AM. Nonetheless, there are many examples of consumer-facing products that incorporate AM and are at various stages of readiness. What consolidates all of these examples is their customization to individual product users (enabled by AM), or the use of AM by designers or craftspersons without traditional supply-chain and production-volume constraints.
AM can also enable customer-specified products that engage the consumer directly in the design process. Ultimately, AM will challenge traditional retail models for many products and will enable individuals to digitally access production infrastructure. On one hand, increased involvement of consumers directly in the design and testing of their purchases can offset the increased price point of AM products or drive the differentiation of value. On the other hand, brokers of highly customized goods can promote a bespoke model, enabling responsive inventories with reduced holding costs.
Latest trends in consumer product industries
Additive manufacturing has already paved its way in many consumer products. While bringing mass customization to complex geometric products, 3D printed parts are one of the latest emerging trends in the market.
Several companies have started incorporating this technology with different delivery platforms to enable their customer’s interact and customize their products. By building application-based platforms, customers can design their products with varied colour, aesthetics and design.
Mass-market customization of prosthetics and athletic shoes using polymer AM is likely to become economically viable soon, yet for electronic devices such as smartphones, the performance benefit of system integration outweighs the potential convenience of modularity enabled by AM at present.
A concourse of enhanced processes, materials, and digital workflows will accelerate the growth of AM, perhaps beyond present optimistic estimates. Moreover, we must continually view AM as one component of the evolving advanced manufacturing infrastructure and recognize the complex requirements of finished products.
The market and demand for more customizable products are on rising and this will be an important factor for the growth of this technology in the consumer market.