Three dimensions (3D) printing refers to using a 3D printer to create objects. These objects are created layer-by-layer by using raw materials. Think of 3D printing as a “miniature version” of a machine in a manufacturing plant that creates objects. While in a manufacturing plant, the machine might be dedicated to creating only a few types of objects but a 3D printer can practically create any type of 3D objects as long as it has the specifications for that object.
3D printing is pushing the idea of giving power to consumers to create objects that are readily available and customizable in their own homes. The prices of 3D printers are declining quickly and soon they would become as common as mobile phones. From these advancements, we observe that 3D printing is shaking the manufacturing industry to its core and thus some organizations will scoff at it, some organizations will be ignorant of it and some organizations will not know how to leverage it but there are only a few organizations that will try to get ahead of it. For the organizations that are trying to get ahead of 3D printing and having competitive advantages, they would need to think about 3D printing as not only giving power to the consumer to print their own objects but the opportunity to create new business models, new services and new sources of revenue. For these forward-looking organizations, here are a few things to consider:
- Strategic Perspective – As the ability of printing objects shifts to consumers, they would spend less time going to shops that sell those objects and would spend more time in shops that provide the raw material used for 3D printers. This shift in consumer power would result in organizations reevaluating their supply chains and vendor relationships. These reevaluations should also be observed by governments to explore what education and training programs need to be developed for the jobs of the future.
- Tactical Perspective – A vast number of consumers will change their habits quickly when: (1) cost of manufacturing objects at home significantly decreases, (2) the quality of objects printed is equal or greater than objects bought from organizations and (3) the amount of time saved in printing at home is much greater than going to shops. This consumer behavior change is closer than we think and it will be accelerated by the need for consumers to spend more time with their families than running around finding stuff from various retail stores. This would, of course, raise the question if brick and mortar stores should really exist.
- Operational Perspective – It is all about how organizations would improve, revamp and reengineer operations to take advantage of 3D printing. To fully understand the leverage 3D printing brings, organizations would need to become more tech-savvy since in the future organizations would be mainly responsible for providing the 3D object specifications. Most importantly, organizations would need to pay close attention to how technology can become an enabler or a disabler in moving them to the next century.
Now that we understand the different organizational perspectives, it is time to consider traditional manufacturing and 3D printing by asking the following questions:
|Currently||In the Future|
|Who directly buys your manufactured objects?||Who directly would buy your 3D object specifications?|
|What business processes are supported by your people and manufacturing plants?||What new business processes are needed for resources and training?|
|Where do manufactured objects go?||Where should 3D object specifications go?|
|When are manufactured objects delivered?||When should 3D object specifications be delivered?|
|Why manufactured objects are still being used?||Why 3D object specifications would be used?|
When you ask the above questions, keep in mind that your business model will be changing from providing a physical object to providing 3D object specifications. This shift can have a dramatic effect on your costs and your ability to connect with the consumers directly. Thus, you would also need to determine (1) keeping the same level of quality even if you don’t manufacture the objects (2) sharing of 3D object specification with suppliers and vendors (3) processes that would need to be eliminated and (4) the new relationships that need to be developed.