On Thursday, June 16 representatives from the Centre for Global Enterprise at the Schulich School of Business attended the grand opening of Proto3000’s new 3D printing and scanning facility in Vaughan.
Proto3000 is an Ontario-based 3D scanning and printing company with operations across North America. The 15,000 square foot facility, equipped with 24 3D printers, marks a welcome development for innovation in Ontario in an evolving industry with the potential to disrupt global manufacturing and supply chain arrangements.
Industry Update: Additive Manufacturing
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has existed in one form or another since the 1980s. However, in recent years, 3D printing has become more capable and cost-efficient, and adoption rates of the technology are reflecting these improvements. In fact, over 30 percent of the 300 largest global brands are using 3D printing technology, and upwards of 200 universities and colleges worldwide now offer 3D print-related courses. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, over one billion people worldwide have a 3D printer within 15 kilometers of their home.
Additive manufacturing has also made forays into a number of key industries including automotive, aviation, and pharmaceuticals, among others. “As more people trained in 3D printing enter different fields, applications will continue to be realized and the technology will continue to expand,” notes Reuben Menezes, Marketing Manager at Proto3000. New applications are also supported by the growing range of printable materials expanding beyond traditional plastics to include metals, ceramics, wood, and biological materials.
“Many manufacturing jobs left North America a long time ago, but by leveraging advanced manufacturing technologies, organizations are learning that they can once again compete in the global manufacturing sector,” states Menezes.
By keeping manufacturing efforts local, 3D printing provides an opportunity to reduce transportation and inventory costs, while at the same time improving a product’s speed to market. Moreover, 3D printing also offers a chance to forge new business relationships, many of which can be found at the frontlines of innovation.
A Three Dimension Strategy Required
Despite 3D printing’s undoubtedly great potential, the technology still faces some significant challenges. Above all, the overall performance of the printers could be enhanced. Increased speed, resolution, and ease of use are potential areas for improvement to assist the technology’s expansion into more high-volume usages in commercial production.
3D printing may never replace existing manufacturing methods. Rather, champions of the technology should probably look to exploit its unique capabilities. This is why customization is paramount. “As it stands, additive manufacturing is best suited for low-volume and highly complex products,” says Menezes. “Typically, the cost benefits of 3D printing declines as volumes increase. But with a shift in consumer demand, product development is also moving to more customized solutions. This is one reason why digital dentistry is a large party of Proto3000’s business, and why the dental industry sees 3D printing as the next wave of efficiency.”
When asked what advice Proto3000 might have for Canadian companies looking to compete globally, Menezes counsels: “Embrace technology. It is a key to closing the gap between you and your competition. Once you narrow that gap, you can focus on other strategies on how to become even better. You don’t have always have to be the first, as investments in technology can be expensive. Just don’t be last.”
Strategic thinking is required for Canada’s manufacturers to decide whether it’s wise to wait for this quickly-evolving technology to mature before making an investment, or whether the risk of waiting is too great. In any case, Proto3000 has led by example by building its new disruptive engine. Their investment is evidence of a culture of innovation for Canadian business, right in our own backyard.
Image Copyright: Image taken from Proto3000 Google+ Page