Additive Manufacturing and the marketing of sustainability.

A 3D printer creating a 3D product

The crusade towards truly sustainable manufacturing methods is finally underway. In this piece, we wanted to demonstrate how far Additive Manufacturing (AM) has come in delivering the prospect of a cleaner, greener and more profitable industry, and why it is so important for this to be communicated. We also take a look at what we might expect to see in the future from a technology predicted to transform everything we know about manufacturing. 

The problem – why we need Additive Manufacturing

Natural resources are rapidly dwindling. Consumption of metals and fossil fuels has increased to such a degree that it is accepted that they cannot replenish themselves quickly enough to provide resources for future generations. Put simply, they will run out unless we rapidly find alternatives and reduce waste, and life will change dramatically as a result. Manufacturing is a $12 trillion global industry, the importance of bringing it into line with environmental demands cannot be understated. The world needs AM, but it also needs to know that it needs it. This is why it is so important for manufacturing companies to use marketing communications to broadcast their achievements and bolster further investment and innovation.

Life cycle analysis

Product life cycle analysis is a leading method with which to establish the environmental impact of manufactured products. It gives a clear indication of exactly where in the manufacturing process that any environmental impact can be reduced. PLA is also the ideal way for manufacturing marketing specialists to demonstrate the benefits of an AM product to its desired audience. As a major advocate of PLA, Dr Nageswara Rao Posinasetti says, “The three major principles to be considered are reduce the resource utilisation in the process, use environment-friendly materials, reduce all forms of waste and reuse and recycle as much material as possible to realise the goal of self-recovery capability of the earth.”  

The good news is that Additive Manufacturing helps to address all of these principles with its super precise nature. It dramatically reduces resource utilisation and all forms of waste associated with manufacturing. In particular, Direct Metal Deposition (DMD) is an AM process that is suitable for simple molds but has a low solid-to-cavity volume ratio. This means that it is much less environmentally damaging compared to CNC milling. Exactly what environmentalists, investors and economists alike want to hear. This is why it is essential for manufacturing marketing professionals to ensure that they are communicating these benefits, and their application, across a range of industries.

What exactly is Additive Manufacturing?

In short, AM is the direct result of the digitalisation of the manufacturing process. It is sometimes referred to as 3D printing, but that is actually a subset of AM. There are a number of different techniques developed around the same principle. Although it was actually first developed decades ago, AM is still technically in its infancy in terms of usage. To give an idea of its predicted growth, it is expected to double in value as an industry in the next 4 years. It’s potential however is far reaching, providing efficiency on a level that promises to radically cut manufacturing waste via the use of 3D printers, which utilise data driven, CAD (Computer Aided Design) software.

How Additive Manufacturing works

3D object scanners are used to direct hardware to thinly layer materials into the required shape with absolute precision. Each layer bonds to the previous layer of material, slowly creating a solid mass. An element of melting takes place in order to generate strength and solidity in the product. Files (.stl) are created by CAD software to “slice” the end product or object into super fine layers which are then used to direct the relevant hardware to ‘build’ the product.

To achieve this, information from the CAD developed files inform the direction of the nozzle or print head. These then deposit each new, super-thin material directly onto the last layer. Alternatively, a laser or electron beam selectively melts in a bed of powdered material and, as the materials cool, they meld together to form a 3D object. This particular technique is known as Powder Bed Fusion (PBF). Both techniques rely on the micro-fine layering process.

How does AM differ from traditional manufacturing methods?

AM functions in a way which places it in direct contrast to traditional, subtractive methods. These have historically meant the removal of excess product with conventional machinery via carving, grinding, milling techniques, generating substantial amounts of waste. AM represents a welcome end to this sort of unnecessary frivolity. In order to do this, it needs to be able to compete with large scale production.

Another shortfall with traditional manufacturing methods that AM can play a particular role in addressing is the volatility associated with long distance supply chains. One of the problems exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic is the heavy reliance of manufacturing and engineering on complex and often far-flung supply chains. According to Barclays, 25% of manufacturing engineers sampled had to seek alternative suppliers as a result of the impact of the pandemic. Furthermore, seven industries have cited AM as being in the top three technological priorities for post-Covid investment. Manufacturers are now envisioning an environment whereby products can be sourced much closer to home. This will enable them to realise the benefits of the huge reduction in transportation costs.

The future of manufacturing

Similar to the way in which the digital revolution has overhauled other industries, technology has now begun to impact more on manufacturing production processes. It is already showing itself to be a potentially massive game changer in terms of reducing environmental impact and delivering sustainability in an ageing industry. The rationale behind increasing the speed of implementing AM into the global manufacturing industry is obvious. The advantages are both environmental and economical, showing that the benefits of industrial sustainability are wide ranging. Further investment in the background technology is essential if the industry is to avoid stagnating and environmental targets are achieved.

From reducing emissions, extending tool life (most are non-contact), eliminating waste and curtailing transportation costs, the environment will clearly be better off for the escalated use of AM. The financial and administrative advantages for manufacturing companies investing in AM technology should offset those investments within a relatively short space of time, making it a viable and appealing option. These benefits include the expansion of design freedom, reducing the length of time to market, bringing production closer to demand and supply chain resiliency. In general, manufacturing and engineering businesses will have much greater control whilst reducing environmental damage. 

The importance of marketing in AM

Manufacturing is sometimes seen as quite a dry topic for those outside of the industry. This sometimes makes it a challenge to communicate the benefits of the AM revolution that is taking place. It is evident that marketing can and must play a key role in developing a better understanding of the advantages of 3D printing. This will encourage more investment and entrepreneurial confidence, and assist AM in fulfilling its potential to transform performance from healthcare and automation to electronics and construction.

At Bishop Communications, we write extensively on the topic of Additive Manufacturing and are more than happy to discuss any questions you may have on the most effective way to market your AM B2B product or service. Just get in touch.