Innovation with 3D Printing

An exciting trend in corporate entrepreneurship over the past decade or so is the adoption and implementation of additive manufacturing techniques. Although the products made with this technology are not always new in design, the upheaval of traditional manufacturing processes certainly represents a breakthrough change. Furthermore, the devices used to execute additive processes represent a whole new set of design challenges and, as a result, innovative solutions. While nimble and risk tolerant startups initially swarmed around 3D printing in order to fill the new market space (such as MakerBot, Formlabs, and Aleph Objects’ Lulzbot just to name a few), it is interesting to see how many large firms missed this first mover opportunity.

HP Inc. appears to have been one of the first major corporations to manufacture 3D printers; other notable early firms include Autodesk (consumer market) and Mazak (hybrid additive/subtractive machines). However, their Fusion Jet 3D printer was not actually released until 2016, despite how the 3D printer concept has been around since the 1980s. HP’s “Multi Jet Fusion process” capitalizes on their inkjet-based technological competencies in order to produce more precise parts in different materials/colors at speeds 10 times faster than pre-existing products. Considering the even longer delay for other corporations to pursue this market, I wondered, what led them to jump on the trend first?

The release of HP Inc.’s 3D printer came shortly after their split from the Meg Whitman led Hewlett Packard Enterprise. This may cause some to conclude that the best way for large firms to innovate is by becoming smaller! But, the development of the Multi Jet Fusion process was announced in 2014, before the split and leadership change. Nevertheless, the current CEO, Dion Weisler, stated that the split allowed them to be “more reactive to a market that we see is changing at lightening speed”. Furthermore, HP refused to cut R&D because, as Weisler said, they want to “keep the innovation engine alive”. Commitment to innovation from top management certainly bodes well for HP’s long-term success. Although, I wonder if innovation will remain within HP’s core strategy or simply be a passing fad. Perhaps a separate innovation department, not within R&D, could allow them to institutionalize innovation and to strike on market opportunities more quickly.

On the other side of the token, a fair number of firms have been finding ways to innovate with the new manufacturing capabilities that these devices provide. The aerospace industry in particular has used the technology because of its ability to create complicated parts with one operation and less overall weight. News stories of aerospace companies that are using 3D printing are becoming extremely prevalent with Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne both having recent announcements. These two companies aim “to speed production and lower costs” by using additive processes for components in satellites and rocket engines, respectively. However, the most intriguing story that I have recently encountered was about Adidas’ Futurecraft 4D shoes which combine an innovative 3D printing process with an innovative product design. Talk about a great combination! The soles are made using “Digital Light Synthesis technology” which combines light and specialty resins to achieve the desired layout. This is yet another example of corporate entrepreneurship that has stemmed from the additive manufacturing revolution. 3D printing is clearly opening doors to product and process innovations in many different industries.

Some questions to consider…

  • Are the Jet Fusion 3D and/or Futurecraft 4D breakthrough innovations?
  • Why has the adoption of additive manufacturing into corporate strategy taken so long?
  • What will be the next industry to leverage additive manufacturing for product innovations?

-Kyle DeVault

[1] T. Hessman, “18 Companies Leading the 3-D Printing Conversion”, Industryweek.com, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.industryweek.com/technology/18-companies-leading-3-d-printing-conversion#slide-0-field_images-154531. [Accessed: 18- Apr- 2017].

[2] A. Zaleski, “HP’s Biggest Gamble Is 3D Printing”, Fortune.com, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://fortune.com/2015/12/08/hp-3d-printing/. [Accessed: 18- Apr- 2017].

[3] R. Park, “Will 2D Printing Giants Succeed in 3D Printing Business? | All3DP”, All3DP, 2017. [Online]. Available: https://all3dp.com/can-2d-printing-giants-succeed-in-the-3d-printing-business/. [Accessed: 18- Apr- 2017].

[4] J. Vanian, “HP, Inc. CEO Dion Weisler Talks 3D Printing, Layoffs, And Being Nimble”, Fortune.com, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://fortune.com/2016/03/08/hp-ceo-qa-3d-printing-layoffs/. [Accessed: 18- Apr- 2017].

[5] P. Swarts, “Lockheed, Aerojet bet on 3-D printing for manufacturing – SpaceNews.com”, SpaceNews.com, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://spacenews.com/lockheed-aerojet-bet-on-3-d-printing-for-manufacturing/. [Accessed: 18- Apr- 2017].

[6] “Adidas Uses Light, Oxygen to Revolutionize Additive Manufacturing, Sports Industry | Sustainable Brands”, sustainablebrands.com, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/product_innovation/sustainable_brands/adidas_uses_light_oxygen_revolutionize_additive. [Accessed: 18- Apr- 2017].

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