As additive manufacturing becomes more available to the public in the consumer form known as 3-D printing, small businesses now have access to machinery that will help them better create parts and prototype designs. There are a lot of different factors that will impact its development that job shops specializing in fabrication and light manufacturing should consider. This is especially important if they are considering industrial-grade or even high-end desktop printers for their needs. From the supply chain to the divergence of technology, many changes will disrupt the industry and can help businesses become more efficient in delivering their customers’ needs.

Loss of patents opens up the market
Stereolithography is a process in which various materials and layers are cured, enabling a smooth appearance in the final product. Many of the processes were previously under patent, meaning printers needed to license the technology. However, the initial patents will expire this year, according to additive manufacturing firm 3DSIM. As a consequence, many printers will be able to use stereolithography based on their own systems without fear of infringement. This will enable lower costs in the long term, making it easier for job shops to get a machine for their needs. This will also cause growth in the .

Outsourcing brings potential for job shops
Part of the growth in the additive manufacturing sector came from consumer-grade 3-D printers that engineers and designers used to create rapid prototypes, as noted by additive manufacturer ProtoCAM. However, the evolution of these machines has slowed. Consequently, complaints rose from various errors and long print queues. Now the same people who embraced the technology are looking to outsource these processes to specialized firms. Job shops may have a particular advantage in this regard if they can set themselves up as specialists. They already have the experience and necessary materials that can enable better results overall, so it’s a solid fit.

Growth in different feedstock materials
Today’s Motor Vehicles reported supply issues coming from metal powders that are the necessary grade for additive manufacturing. These high-quality materials with no defects will become increasingly difficult to gain from various sources. This will likely result in a shift in feedstock to serve different needs. Wire-based feedstocks will grow as extrusion methods improve for metallic alloys, enabling a more cost-effective approach for various shops and their customers. Other feedstock that will gain attention in the coming months are ceramics and bio materials, which can help expand possible applications and audiences.

Colors better enable manufacturing at a larger scale
Part of the reason shops have not been as interested in using printers of either the industrial or consumer grades is the limited customization. In particular, the end products often had the same color as the feedstock. This limited applications to prototyping and basic parts that don’t require painting or other materials. There are changes on this front however, with 2-D printers investing in 3-D technology and bringing their ink and toner expertise to the field. The result is implementing colors in different ways, making completed products possible. This will strengthen the position of many shops to expand their potential services through additive manufacturing.

Job shops have a great growth opportunity
At this point, there are two factions of additive manufacturing: Professional consumers – such as engineers and designers – who prototype and manufacturers who can scale the production of large-format products. However, there’s a major productivity gap between the two regarding the creation of specific parts or make-to-order production that enables fast turnaround for certain needs. Job shops with specialization in make-to-order could stand to invest in additive manufacturing and serve as the bridge between the two forces. This will strengthen the industry as a whole.

Job shops specializing in fabrication and assembly should read the features and benefits of Microsoft Dynamics NAV today to learn how they can become more efficient.

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