Digitization and 3D Printing is Reshaping the Canadian Manufacturing Industry

By Mary Ann Yule

Charles Darwin said that survival is based not on strength or intelligence but on a species’ ability to respond to change. We have a case study brewing right now in the manufacturing industry that will prove him right—again.

Since the middle of the last century, the digital revolution has reinvented much of how we live and work, yet basic design and manufacturing processes haven’t fundamentally changed over the past 100 years. In fact, production has been pushed farther from the consumer, constrained design flexibility and customization, and strained our natural resources.

These models are no longer sustainable and companies that don’t adapt—and do so quickly and deliberately—will certainly go the way of the dinosaurs.

Digital manufacturing technologies, including 3D Printing (3DP), will overhaul every link in the manufacturing and supply chain, from R&D and factory operations to marketing, sales, and service. These technologies and the connectivity they enable will unlock new opportunities and value as they reshape the manufacturing industry in three elemental ways.

Propel production closer to point of consumption. In the conventional supply chain model, manufacturers develop new products, source components, oversee manufacturing and assembly, and then distribute products to retail. This model not only gives consumers little choice, it also carries with it the uncertainty of whether a product will sell or not. Through a new, highly responsive 3D supply chain, consumers can place their orders for fulfillment from local shops, which will not only deliver exactly what they want, but also do it faster.

The industrial sector will undergo dramatic change, too, as we begin to see more and more products with embedded intelligence. For example, a health care sciences manufacturer will produce a 3D printed part with embedded sensors for joint replacements, which will communicate back to the medical team. Manufacturers of huge mechanisms down to tiny components can benefit from using 3DP—whether they own the equipment or utilize service providers—to move to market faster.

How products move from design to production to 3D printing hubs will become increasingly easier, smarter and faster. Shipping partially assembled components back and forth across the globe—the manufacturing paradigm for the last century—is slow, expensive and massively carbon intensive.

The potential for a greater responsiveness to customer needs will fuel the adoption of 3DP by major manufacturers. What’s unfolding before our eyes is a move towards the democratization of manufacturing, the commercial materialization of creative ideas and the blurring identity of artist, maker and manufacturer.

Liberate design, accelerate processes, shift workforces. With the introduction of 3DP, physical parts can now be created and transmitted digitally anywhere in the world, allowing goods to flow nearly as efficiently as ideas do today across the internet. Designers and engineers will be able to work from anywhere, freed from the constraints of old-school manufacturing techniques such as injection molding. Instead, they’ll design products with an unprecedented degree of granularity and precision, making it possible to manufacture goods that simply cannot be made today.

Digitization of manufacturing also promises faster improvement cycles. After all, a digital file is much easier to change than a mold or an assembly line. Shifts in style, demand, or functionality will be turned around instantly. This efficiency of production will create opportunities, too. Manufacturing jobs that had been outsourced will need to be closer to where the final products will be offered, purchased, and consumed. As advanced manufacturing technology and materials become more affordable, manufacturers will adopt them to develop sophisticated prototypes in less time, opening massive possibilities for mass customization in designing parts.

Fuel planet-friendly growth. Companies will ship digital designs and raw materials in a digital manufacturing world. Nothing else. Digitalizing the shipment of goods and producing finished products near the point of consumption promises to reduce carbon emissions, production waste, and unnecessary inventory. Case in point: Airbus conducted a study on a titanium aerospace bracket, which when designed using 3DP, resulted in a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions over the lifecycle of the bracket. Materials waste was also 25 per cent less with 3DP versus casting.

Innovative manufacturing driven by 3DP moves use toward a materials and energy-efficient circular economy. The circular economy rethinks the concept of waste by treating it as made up of biological and technical nutrients designed to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value. Decoupling growth from natural resource extraction, the circular economy spurs economic growth while reducing strains on the planet’s natural resources.

Unlike evolution, natural selection doesn’t need to be left to chance. Major technology companies like GE, SAP, and HP are investing heavily in 3D printing, working toward the shared vision of cost-effective, precision quality, and mass personalization for everyone. Start today to incorporate how you will deploy 3DP to catalyze your digital manufacturing transformation to bring innovation back to our local communities and revitalize manufacturing in Canada.

Mary Ann Yule is President & CEO at HP Canada Co.