Sunday, December 26, 2021

"The Peculiar Economics of 3D Printing"

During the Great 3D Fascination of 2012 - 2013 it became apparent very quickly that the then highest use of the additive manufacturing concept was metalworking, Which led to the Swedish company Arcam which led to a nice investment. Some links below.

From Quillette:

Klaus Schwab, the executive director and founder of the World Economic Forum, forecasts that, as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, smart manufacturing will converge with synthetic biology and AI to have a transformational impact on the economy and our daily lives. Smart manufacturing is a form of advanced industrial manufacturing that integrates innovative technologies such as 3D printing, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to provide data analytics in real time.

In traditional manufacturing, large corporations and conglomerates rely on expensive production equipment to mass-produce standardized parts and products—a business model that typically utilizes offshore production and extensive supply chains. Traditional manufacturing systems have high fixed costs and low variable costs, but mass-production enables economies of scale. Although robotics and data analytics are used more frequently today in manufacturing to increase efficiency, despite all of the hype surrounding 3D printing it has yet to replace traditional manufacturing.

The role of smart manufacturing and 3D printing in future economies and wider societies could evolve in a number of possible ways. Will smart manufacturing become disruptive? Or will another type of smart factory prevail?

3D printing and the maker movement

3D printing is the process by which a three-dimensional solid object is made from a digital file. In fabrication laboratories (fablabs), do-it-yourself individuals and small independent companies use software such as CAD-CAM to print 3D customized products. Computer-aided design (CAD) assists with product design and documents the design process through creation, modification, and optimization, while computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) is the computer-controlled machinery that automates the manufacturing process.

Fablabs are already springing up across the US. In my hometown of Durham, NC, the city library system has leased several spaces to sell used books and hold maker classes. At Duke University, fablabs are strategically placed around campus to enable students to make their own products. The medical school even has a 3D printer capable of using three different materials to produce human body parts that medical students can use for training during cadaver shortages.

This trend has gained international momentum, too. According to Sherry Lassiter, who runs the Fab Foundation at MIT, since 2003, the number of fablabs globally has doubled every year-and-a-half in line with Moore’s Lawthe principle that computers will double their speed and capacity every couple of years. Neil Gershenfeld of MIT argues that the next big step within the maker movement will be self-assembly based on biological processes.

3D printing is referred to as “additive manufacturing” because it applies successive layers of material to form a predesigned shape. Traditional manufacturing, on the other hand, uses a subtractive process which involves cutting materials away from a solid block. Using recycled materials and creating less waste, 3D printing is perceived as more sustainable, but that is somewhat misleading—depending on the product, 3D printing does produce waste materials that require disposal or recycling.

On-demand printing offers businesses numerous advantages. It prevents the build-up of unwanted inventory and the cost of storage in warehouses, and custom orders can eliminate the middleman and reduce shipping costs and energy consumption. Designers also have a higher degree of creative flexibility and can accommodate last minute modifications, and in economies of scope, printing on-demand can build value because its range of products can be more flexible.

But while the maker movement fills a niche for customized products, it is not a solution for all business models. Fablabs and 3D printing shops are only able to produce items in small quantities and are not able to compete with faster and more efficient mass production. 

3D printing and smart manufacturing

In 2010, China surpassed the United States as the largest manufacturing country. But neither China nor the United States is currently leading the way in advanced manufacturing. According to a 2012 report by the US National Science and Technology Council, the top three countries were Germany, South Korea, and Japan, which all maintain intensive R&D manufacturing sectors and positive trade balances. The United States is fourth, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

In 2012, Germany began its own smart manufacturing initiative referred to as Industry 4.0. Built on the past three industrial revolutions, Industry 4.0 utilizes cyberphysical systems to create physical objects from digital technologies such as 3D printing, data analytics, and robotics. Germany’s success is attributed to former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s full support for Industry 4.0 applications and the hundreds of German companies—especially those in the automotive industry—which have invested billions of dollars in R&D.....


Although we've seen thing like 3D printed meat, most of the things that early adopters were doing created what were basically junk. On the other hand: 

Swedish 3D Printer Arcam AB: Small Company with Big Growth Projections (AMAVF) 

What's Moving: 3D Printer Arcam AB Up 10.72% (AMAVF) 

Another Use for 3D Printing: Building A Beak for a Bald Eagle

Because the technology is only now ramping up (after a twenty year gestation) the results are still a bit crude.
As advances are made in sintering there will eventually be stuff made, not prototypes but actual stuff, from steel or copper or...

Two European companies — EOS of Germany and Arcam of Sweden are ahead of the pack in the metalworking part of the biz....
Despite my concern about the share price the company itself is a little gem, one of the leaders in 3D metalworking as opposed to the plastic tchotchkes that you get out of a MakerBot.
And not just any kind of metalworking either, this is bleeding edge....

And on what Quillette quotes as 'pan-industrials':

Richard D’Aveni, a business strategist at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, argues that new platforms built around additive manufacturing—“pan-industrials” with new ways to create value—will eventually dominate the global economy because they can provide the advantages of both traditional manufacturing and 3D printing—economies of scale and scope....

The talk in 2013 was that Bezos would be there when the time was ripe: 

Amazon Will Seize 3D Printing (AMZN)

And when Credit Suisse picked up coverage on the group in September 2013 our thoughts were:

...CS sounds like a religious convert or a reformed smoker.
They go on to say that the most rapid expansion will come from personal use but the folks who are serious about making money have moved far beyond that technology and are working on bioprinting. CS can keep the at-home stuff, I wish 'em all the best.
I've mentioned that I first passed on Stratasys in the '90's at a couple bucks, it closed at $99.49 on Friday.
These are wonderful businesses but for now they have a lot of work to do to grow into their stock prices.
We have quite a few posts on the industry and the companies, here's the Google search of the blog:
The list of posts is pretty eclectic, for example:
 UPDATED-- Dita Von Teese Models 'World First' Articulated 3D Printed Dress Based On Fibonacci Sequence
From HuffPo UK:

Dita Von Teese has unveiled the world's first fully articulated dress produced with a 3D printer.
The gown was designed by Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti and revealed at the the Ace Hotel in New York.

Created with the help of Shapeways, a company which lets designers sell objects which are printed on demand with industrial-scale 3D printers, the dress is based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers.
Shapeways said:

"The gown was assembled from 17 pieces, dyed black, lacquered and adorned with over 13,000 Swarovski crystals to create a sensual flowing form."...MORE
DVICE is reporting:
Contrary to other reports, this 3D-printed dress is not the first of its kind. (Freedom of Creation made one back in 2006.) However, it is the first one to be designed on an iPad and sport over 13,000 Swarovski crystals.* It's also specifically made for Burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese, meaning it won't fit your body no matter how hard you try to squeeze into it....MORE
I'm betting it is the first 3D printed dress based on the Fibonacci sequence.
There is a very large opportunity for a smart engineer (or dress designer) to take on the standalone players, as I said in a prior Arcam post:
This is the kind of thing a guy wishes he had taken private.