What’s the Next Big Thing in Manufacturing?

By Louise Law, Communications Manager, Welocalize

478599969Our recent financial crisis has meant global companies and policymakers needed to re-address the imbalance of an over-reliance on the services industry and in particular, financial services. As our global population continues to rise, alongside living standards, demand for manufacturing and industrial goods will surely grow too. There is more demand for better healthcare and pharmaceuticals, more demand for construction and housing.

In the past few decades, global manufacturers have been faced with a fiercely competitive environment. Many manufacturers pursuing labor and production cost-reduction strategies, taking production to lower cost nations like China or South East Asia. More recently, manufacturers have been evaluating and reviewing use of manufacturing technology to make production processes more streamlined and automated, to give them increased competitive edge, rather than continue to pursue a low-production cost approach. Manufacturing plays a critical role in an economy’s long-term prosperity. It creates jobs and generates domestic revenue so it is natural for each economy to want to continue to nurture and grow a domestic manufacturing presence.

An important enabler for change in manufacturing is the increased focus on innovation and use of technology. This leads to less emphasis being put on simply driving down the labor costs by shifting focus on production and capacity. More use of innovative manufacturing technologies results in a leaner manufacturing process. More operational cxcellence (OPEX) injected into the process and the elimination of waste.

One emerging industry trend is additive manufacturing or 3D printing, as it is more commonly known. 3D Printing is the process of making a 3D solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. This “manufacturing on demand” model has moved from intrigue to production reality.  The use of 3D printers has grown exponentially over the last few years and the price of 3D printers falling rapidly. In October 2013, Gartner analysts said that worldwide 3D printer shipments are set to double, year-over-year and that 3D printing will have high impact on industries like manufacturing and consumer products.

Advances in additive manufacturing technology, used for modelling and prototyping, and more access to open-source machines have meant a more realistic take up rate of 3D printing activities. Maybe in the future we won’t need big production factories; however, we will have small, local production units, providing on-demand 3D printing.  Local production, means localization of user manuals and training.

Steeped in tradition, luxury car manufacturer, Aston Martin, who produces its’ high performance cars in the UK, use 3D printing at the design stage to reduce costs. Design sketches are mapped onto a 3D wireframe model and a 3D printer is used to create certain parts of the prototype model. Once costs come down, uptake will be rapid and 3D printing will come into more mainstream manufacturing activities. It could be that 3D printing creates a sustainable future for manufacturing design and production, over and above simply sourcing cheap labor.

Let me know what you think. How do you think 3D will affect localization strategies?