The State of 3D Printing in Industrial Goods, Part One
As we have explored some niche industrial sectors, such as agricultural and heavy equipment manufacturers, we’ve learned that, while most of the leading companies in the sector use 3D printing for prototyping and design purposes, they are only now beginning to dip their feet into making parts via additive manufacturing (AM). The same seems to be true of those corporations involved in producing industrial goods.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the largest players in the space and explore how they are using AM for industrial goods. Then, we’ll follow this story up with an article on the suppliers in the sector.
Before we get to that, it’ll be necessary to give a bit of definition to “industrial goods”. This blurry concept is a sort of catch-all for manufacturers that don’t fit into clear-cut categories such as aerospace, weapons, oil and gas, automotive, consumer goods, medical and dental and maritime. Broadly speaking, the industrial goods sector sells equipment and parts used to make other goods. Think drill bits, manufacturing equipment, and contract production.
The industrial goods sector may not be as far along in adopting AM for the manufacturing of end parts as the aerospace industry, but it seems to be more mature than the agricultural and heavy machinery fields (which are often lumped under industrial goods, as well).
Emerson Electric is a multinational, Fortune 500 company that makes parts and provides engineering services across a wide number of industries. The corporation is currently using AM primarily for prototyping and design iteration, which Emerson claims has reduced their product design and development time by 85 percent. The company also provides a service for original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to have 3D printed microfluidic valve assemblies rapidly produced with stereolithography (SLA) for customers to perform form and fit testing.
However, in 2016, Emerson also launched a new additive manufacturing center in Singapore, through a partnership with the Singapore Economic Development Board and Nanyang Technological University, that aims to make AM a production-worthy technology for the company. The center will work on 3D printing valve and automation components with greater speed and flexibility than possible with traditional manufacturing techniques. This comes three years after launching an AM program in Iowa.