The world of manufacturing is in a state of flux. Digital fabrication, including 3D printing digital prototyping, has made it easier for small manufacturers to design and create new and innovative products. If your manufacturing business isn’t already using these techniques, here are some of the top benefits to consider that could change your mind.
Digital Fabrication Benefits
It Offers Opportunities for Automation
Digital fabrication, first and foremost, allows manufacturers to use technology to create even intricate designs rather than having to rely on manual labor.
Josh Worley, lead designer for Opendesk, a platform for local making and digital fabrication in the furniture industry, said in an email to Small Business Trends, “Digital fabrication technologies allow small independent manufacturers to automate/ semi-automated the production of complex parts that would have previously only been possible via traditional hand-tooling or more costly, inaccessible batch/ mass production tooling.”
It Saves Teams Time
In addition to the actual creation process being more streamlined, digital fabrication can help businesses save time on the preparation involved.
Worley says, “Designers and engineers are familiar with digital fabrication technologies and are often able to provide makers with manufacture ready files, meaning less costly/ time consuming preparation work. Services like Opendesk and 3D hubs have standardised file formats and make it very easy for makers to maximise the use of their digital fabrication tools without any investment in marketing and lead generation.”
It Saves Money on Multiple Fronts
Because of those benefits, digital manufacturing essentially allows small manufacturers to operate more efficiently and with lower costs. You can save money on labor, since team members won’t have to spend as much time on intricate techniques and prep work. The initial equipment investment can also be a bit less expensive than traditional manufacturing equipment.
It Makes Local Manufacturing More of a Possibility
Those cost saving benefits also allow manufacturers to operate nearly anywhere, rather than automatically opting for locations with inexpensive labor and then paying to ship products around the world.
Worley adds, “Digital fabrication tools twinned with the world-wide web make it possible to manufacture and price locally, cutting out shipping and storage, giving more to independent designers and local makers, benefiting local economies.”
It Can Lead to More Opportunities for Marketing
Since consumers tend to appreciate when products are made domestically or in their local community, the opportunity for local manufacturing can also lead to more opportunities for marketing and positioning. You can play up the local angle and partner with other nearby businesses to really appeal to customers in the area.
It Levels the Playing Field
In traditional manufacturing, the more products you make, the less each product is likely to cost. So small manufacturers are unlikely to be able to compete with larger ones in terms of price. But technology has lowered the barriers to entry and made it more cost effective even for those who don’t create massive amounts of the same products
Worley says, “As technology and hardware matures, costs fall and accessibility increases. Traditional barriers to entry imposed on design and manufacturing are reduced. It’s the move from Hollywood to Youtube, Hilton hotels to AirBnB, the printed Encyclopedia to Wikipedia. Digital fabrication tools are having the same impact on manufacturing, allowing small businesses to provide viable alternatives to more costly manufacturing techniques in their local markets with relatively inexpensive tooling.”
It Uses Consistent Technology
The technology also offers a fairly consistent experience across different platforms. So if you decide to change platforms or processes, it shouldn’t require a ton of extra work to redesign the whole product line and creation methods.
Worley explains, “Because digital fabrication tools such as CNC routers (used across the Opendesk maker network) and 3D printers all run in fundamentally the same way, it’s easy to transfer manufacturing files without costly, time consuming production drawings. Digital fabrication tools are resulting in universal practices such as standardised file formats, making prototyping or small batch production quicker and easier than ever!”
Because of that consistency, digital fabrication also offers plenty of opportunities for manufacturers to scale their operations. You can switch to a more efficient platform and still use your original designs no matter how large you grow your business.
It Creates a More Equitable Supply Chain
In addition to the benefits for manufacturing businesses, digital fabrication also brings a more equitable distribution to the supply chain. Rather than having to automatically go for the traditional processes, manufacturers can gain more power in the process rather than having their prices squeezed by distributors or retailers.
Worley says, “The established twentieth century model of mass production and mass logistics, relies heavily on manufacturing where land and labor is cheapest, and shipping to the point of sale. It squeezes designers and manufacturers to disproportionately favour those at the end of the supply chain – the high street retailers.”
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