2020 brought a host of massive changes forcing most of us to adjust in both our personal and work lives. During this global pandemic, additive manufacturing has become imperative to helping, and has also been the topic of growing news coverage. This was not surprising to anyone within 3D printing though because our industry is built to adapt to changing market conditions.  

Founded in 2007 with production sites in New York and the Netherlands, our company is well-known for producing products at scale using multiple 3D printing technology, methods, and materials. The Shapeways team is privileged to operate with a unique perspective in relation to business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C) needs for customized products that would not have come to fruition successfully via any other technology except additive manufacturing.

As we enter 2021, fierce competition in the industrial marketplace and new demands from savvy customers are paving an on-demand manufacturing landscape, leaving businesses to navigate exciting but previously uncharted territory.

3D Printing Software Becomes Critical

Innovative and newly emerging 3D software programs will play a large role in refining and automating the design and production process, allowing users to make changes almost effortlessly. Use of 3D printing software can mean the difference between production of a quality 3D printed product or an inferior one. Additive manufacturing software assists in processes such as nesting, build preparation, tray planning, and file repair, and the use of comprehensive software will mean a better outcome in terms of performance and functionality, whether you are proto-typing or fabricating production parts meant to last for the long term.

3D Printing is Leading the Future

Scalability should prove to be more applicable than ever in 2021, as a wide range of companies with their eyes on the future integrate 3D printing and other resources into their businesses. With proper scaling and detailed attention to workflow, companies can factor in those inevitable highs and lows that accompany question marks in the economy—especially with the roller-coaster ride challenging many smaller organizations due to the pandemic. Businesses must continue to grow, but in the coming days and months, flexibility will be critical as commercial infrastructure and technological solutions must be carefully considered in terms of economic cycles.

After producing more than 12 million parts, using over 10 different technologies and more than 75 different materials, our team at Shapeways is well aware of the benefits of digital manufacturing as it has transformed the creative and manufacturing process for designers and engineers around the world. Tremendous impacts have also been made in numerous industries; for example, in the medical field 3D models and devices now allow for patient-specific treatment which basically changes everything for patients in need.

Surgeons are able to diagnose and treat serious conditions using 3D printed medical models and guides, along with offering better educational tools not only for medical students, but also in supplying visuals for the patients who are being affected—and their families. Prosthetics and a variety of implants are also being fabricated to improve the quality of lives for many patients who may have been struggling to function in daily life.

Markets for eyewear, dental products, and hearing aids have also been heavily disrupted by 3D printing, and we will see this type of innovation seeping into other areas as smart, competitive business owners are intent on leveraging new technology.

COVID-19 is Not Going Anywhere

Individuals and companies of all sizes are respectively being forced to reshape their careers, workflow habits, and business practices due to restrictions caused by the viral pandemic; however, many organizations were already interested in the idea of integrating additive manufacturing, despite common (and understandable) uncertainties about how to implement new technology and processes.  

3D printing has proven to be extremely useful in manufacturing of on-demand parts related to COVID-19 though, whether for personal protective equipment (PPE) or devices such as ventilators and associated parts, and in fact, individual designers and established companies networking within the 3D printing community have been able to help manufacture items when supplies were critically low globally. Companies just entering the 3D printing market may be interested in targeting customers from the medical industry as well as fabricating smaller items that become popular with consumers beyond this year.

At Shapeways, we have become dedicated to fabrication of numerous 3D printed items related to COVID-19 like:

Other existing businesses may also be shifting their 3D printing services to on-demand, on-site manufacturing of PPEs and devices, even completely moving away from more general offerings for the time being. Individual designers have invented many helpful new components, and members from the 3D printing community continue to work together too, making an inspiring impact worldwide as critical needs continue to be made known.

Supply Chain Agility will Ramp Up

3D printing is an intuitive choice for high mix, low volume applications where on-demand parts are required—as well as consolidating assembly into as few pieces as possible with the use of larger print beds and suitable materials. With the onset of COVID-19, supply chains were enormously affected, making it difficult not only to continue with normal business practices and manufacturing, but also transportation and delivery nearly anywhere. Businesses engaged in 3D printing have a true edge in terms of supply chains, however, and this will continue to become more apparent as parts can be printed at facilities closer to end-users, if not completely on site.

Investment in 3D Printing Accelerates

Over the past few years, we have seen some stunning headlines as large companies like HP and GE have continued to invest in additive manufacturing and collaborate with many other entities, along with participating in ongoing collaborations, consolidations, and purchases to include companies like DSM, recently purchased for €1.6 billion by polymer supplier, Covestro.

Progressive technology like 3D printing is shining like never before, leaving industry leaders and venture capitalists to pour enormous amounts of money into the 3D printing space—even as economic question marks may remain.

Whether you are an architectural designer, structural engineer, or own an industrial company, if you are interested in benefitting from some of the classic rewards 3D printing can offer. Some benefits include greater return on investment, faster turnaround, and the ability to make products never possible before. Your needs may be based on prototyping, manufacturing functional components, or diving into numerous innovative endeavors, but with the proper hardware, software, materials, and 3D printing education, you could change the course of your business (and the potential for greater success) in ways never previously imagined. Contact one of our 3D printing experts to find out how additive manufacturing can meet your manufacturing needs.