Individualization covers a number of developments, including the consumer demand for “mass customization.” The increased desire for individualized, mass-produced products that meet a specific person’s needs is a growing market, which can be ideally served by Additive Manufacturing technology. In 3D printing, it makes no difference whether 50 identical or 50 individual parts are manufactured in one build cycle, making it possible to create highly personalized goods, even in serial production.
In general, made-to-measure products should be manufactured efficiently, cost-effectively, and ideally as close as possible to the market where they will be offered. One example is the healthcare sector, which offers solutions that meet a patient’s needs through digitalization. This ranges from telemedicine, which can ensure comprehensive care by qualified doctors, especially in rural regions, to wearables for therapy monitoring and control that simplify diagnosis and enable individual medication and dosage.
There is a great demand for these products. The WHO estimates that there are one billion people with some form of disability worldwide. Around 200 million people need glasses or other low-vision devices and do not have access to them; 70 million people need a wheelchair, whereas only five to 15 percent of them actually have one (Source: WHO). With all the possibilities it offers, industrial 3D printing can be part of the solution – particularly for individualized patient care – as each person is unique and standard solutions often fall short. Custom-made products based on traditional manufacturing processes are comparatively time-consuming and cost-intensive to produce.
3D printing addresses these challenges and enables high-quality, patient-specific orthopedic technology to be produced rapidly and cost-effectively. Patients are provided with products ideally adapted to their physical characteristics and specifications, which increases wearing comfort and ultimately ensures optimal treatment outcomes.
A further advantage of AM technology is the simple reproducibility of the components, as once designed, an orthosis can be produced again at any time and in the same quality. That is relevant, for example, for children’s orthoses, which have to be replaced with the same functionality and structure, but in a different size. Additive manufacturing is therefore among the key technological innovations worldwide for the medical sector. According to SmarTech Analysis, the market for industrial 3D printing solutions in the healthcare sector is expected to exceed nine billion US dollars by 2024 (Quelle: SmarTech Analysis).
One aspect of globalization to consider is the site selection of companies. It is becoming apparent that companies are increasingly pursuing the aim of operating and manufacturing in closer proximity to their sales markets. This trend towards “nearshoring” is also being taken up by 3D printing, as additive manufacturing provides an outstanding level of flexibility – with respect to production batch sizes, manufacturing times, and production locations. In future, components will no longer have to be made on a local-to-global basis and it will no longer be necessary to relocate production to low-cost countries, for example. Instead, decentralized manufacturing centers can be set up, the digital component data sent to them, and the product 3D-printed directly on site on a “globally local” basis, cutting logistics costs and reducing carbon emissions at the same time.
Two further advantages: additive manufacturing makes it possible to produce variable batches as needed (“from one to many) - and this from just-in-time, to on-demand, whatever needed. Small, individualized production batch sizes are a key advantage, particularly in the spare parts business, as they eliminate tool costs and cut the cost of warehousing.
The above developments are an important topic in the public transport sector, for example at Deutsche Bahn, as the company has decided to go with made-to-measure 3D-printed spare parts for the information panels in its ICE intercity trains. These kinds of small components in particular can be a great challenge to provide. Normal wear and tear as well as brittleness can cause parts to break over time and a replacement is frequently needed after 10 to 15 years. The intended service life of rail vehicles is at least 25 years. However, it is not uncommon for a train to be in use for far longer periods. In many cases, the supplier has long since decided to discontinue part production. In addition, it is often made in small quantities that cannot be reproduced economically with conventional manufacturing technologies.
Industrial 3D printing has the advantage of being able to produce new spare parts at any time, even for what are sometimes small quantities, thus guaranteeing decades of maintenance, without having to compromise on either quality or efficiency. At the same time the costs are lower than if tools had to be made for a conventional manufacturing process.