Faster Wealth Creation with 3D Printing

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When additive manufacturing (AM) was a sparkling new technology in the eyes of the world. it was 3D printing’s nerdy vocabulary that titillated other ears. But, now, our industry needs to speak in other tongues. If AM must grow, then it will have to appeal to others in a language that they can understand. So far, the sector has been ineffective in communicating well with entrepreneurs, financiers, and the broader public. AM was just a collection of new words in a cloud of hype. To reach a new plateau, it will have to be meshed with and embedded within the fairytales and inner logic of other communities.

It’s All Finance to Me

As an industry, it has been difficult to communicate the benefits of 3D printing to finance professionals and C-level executives. There, 3D printing is seen as an interesting bauble or a dowry of a future imagined. It is not seen as something that is very important today. However, it brings real value to the financial sector.

AM can reduce the amount of capital tied up in goods. By making objects quicker and closer to the time of need, while using less material and reducing inventory, the technology makes operations more efficient and means less cash wasted on stuff that is laying about, waiting to be used. 3D printing can free up funds by making operations more efficient by switching them to 3D printing. This will not always work but, in some cases, one can identify significant opportunities where free cashflow can be generated with AM. Just in inventories alone, billions lay in wait. To unlock this opportunity, the 3D printing industry would need to speak the vocabulary of finance professionals and communicate to them in the way that they are accustomed to. If they understand this limited opportunity, it will translate to growth for the industry.

Kaizen is My Favorite Manga

Just-in-time production and lean manufacturing have had major impacts on how things are made today. These very operations-centric practices permeated boardrooms and books to the extent that they are now the aspirational way of producing things. Traditionally, the 3D printing industry has had a rather adversarial relationship with operations people. Obviously, 3D printing can make them leaner by converting products at the last moment and the technology may be able to make rigid production schedules more flexible, while still being efficient. But, so far, the 3D printing industry has not found a way to effectively communicate with operations people. Often, AM has seen itself as the future of all manufacturing and something that would sweep away all before it, rather than something that would aid manufacturing as a whole.

Entrepreneur (or the Business of Undertaking)

Entrepreneurs have long seen AM as a way to make their fortunes—not only by creating 3D printing businesses, but also by investing in them and slathering some exciting 3D Printing sauce over existing endeavors and projects. What has not happened is a broad excitement over the business potential of the technology in and of itself.

AM was the next big thing until it wasn’t. 3D printing was not seen as a key business technology. What 3D printing does is it lets you convert a material into an object faster. Better time-to-market is by now a 3D printing trope, conformal cooling for the marketing set.

Entrepreneurs, however, have not been given enough understanding beyond the boiler plate to really see the implications. If I can convert something into a product more quickly, I can sell it faster, get paid faster, and invent the next thing and put it on the market faster. A 3D printing business is more flexible in production, ties up less capital in stock, iterates more rapidly, mitigates fashion risk, and is faster to market.

In any kind of fast business, therefore, we’d expect companies to deploy 3D printing to outperform those who have to order inventory months ahead. The more fickle the consumer, the more ephemeral success, the more sense 3D printing makes. It is by understanding AM that entrepreneurs can figure out how to convert ideas into material objects more rapidly, how to be successful more quickly, and how to outcompete.

Success

Over the coming period, AI will be the new fever dream and our industry just a memory for most. 3D printing is about to show the world that it is, like a fish turned lizard, waddling through the mud towards the slope of enlightenment. Now, is not the time to be mysterious and magical. Rather, it is the time to translate hope into reality and promise into a path to implementation that others can understand.

Images Creative Commons Attribution, Presidio of Monterey, Mats Petersen & Billie Grace Ward.

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