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3-D Printing as a Replacement for Traditional Production

3d Printing1

Summary and Vocabulary

  1. A cold war with China.
    1. feed up – annoyed, unhappy, or bored, especially with a situation that has existed for a long time
    2. espionage – the practice of spying or of using spies, typically by governments to obtain political and military information
    3. manipulation – control or influence (a person or situation) in a skilful manner
    4. bullying – use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something
    5. fight back – if you fight back against someone or something that is attacking or harming you, you resist them actively or attack them
  2. Trouble for American manufactures with global supply chains.
    1. back down – if you back down, you withdraw a claim, demand, or commitment that you made earlier, because other people are strongly opposed to it
    2. spells – mean or have as a result
    3. undoubtedly – without doubt; certainly
    4. reshoring – process of return of the productions withdrawn abroad; bringing production back home to be closer to customers
    5. ought to – should
    6. embracing – an act of holding someone closely in one's arms
  3. Additive manufacturing is now moving into mass production.
    1. relegated – assign an inferior rank or position to
    2. trinkets – a small ornament or item of jewellery that is of little value
    3. conventional – based on or in accordance with what is generally done or believed
  4. 3-D printing is tailor-made for reshoring.
    1. scale – a graduated range of values forming a standard system for measuring or grading something
    2. plants – machinery used in an industrial or manufacturing process
    3. labour – work, especially physical work
    4. weakens – make or become less in power, resolve, or physical strength
  5. Quicker way to supply repair parts to remote locations.
    1. military – relating to or characteristic of soldiers or armed forces
    2. jets – an aircraft powered by one or more jet engines
    3. ramp up – to increase or cause to increase dramatically
    4. breaks – an interruption of continuity or uniformity
  6. It will take time and effort.
    1. crucial – decisive or critical, especially in the success or failure of something
    2. steep – rising or falling sharply; almost perpendicular
    3. assembly – the action of gathering together as a group for a common purpose
    4. holds up – something placed to support something else and prevent it from falling
    5. wartime – a period during which a war is taking place
  7. GE certified parts for the new GEnx engines in Boeing.
    1. stand up – accepted as true or satisfactory after being carefully examined
    2. rigors – the quality of being extremely thorough and careful; additional definition: it has to be able to withstand thorough testing (even testing to destruction)
    3. propulsion – a machine with moving parts that converts power into motion; the action of driving or pushing forwards
  8. To take advantage of its flexibility and versatility.
    1. upfront – before, or in order, for something to happen
    2. reap – receive (something, especially something beneficial) as a consequence of one's own or another's actions
    3. payoff – is a payment which is made to someone, often secretly or illegally, so that they will not cause trouble
    4. revamp – an act of improving the form, structure, or appearance of something
    5. versatility – capable of or adapted for many different uses, skills, etc
    6. outreach – reach further than
  9. Minimal time and cost for the switchover.
    1. versatile – able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities
    2. demand – an insistent and peremptory request, made as of right
    3. capacity – the maximum amount that something can contain
  10. The emergence of "pan-industrial" corporations.
    1. mortars – a short smooth-bore gun for firing shells (technically called bombs) at high angles
  11. Create dominant ecosystems based on their integration platforms.
    1. perfects – having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be
    2. eventually – in the end, especially after a long delay, dispute, or series of problems
  12. Buying up numerous printers and integrating them.
    1. besides – in addition to; apart from
    2. sophisticated – having, revealing, or proceeding from a great deal of worldly experience and knowledge of fashion and culture
    3. slide in – become smaller, fewer, or less; decrease
    4. turmoil – a state of great disturbance, confusion, or uncertainty
  13. Greatest urgency.
    1. frontier – the extreme limit of understanding or achievement in a particular area
    2. urgency – importance requiring swift action


Vice President Pence just made it all but official: The United States is in a cold war with China. Fed up with Beijing's industrial espionage, market manipulation, and cyber attacks on the West, coupled with its bullying of neighbours and repression at home, the Trump administration announced a series of strong steps to fight back.

Since the Chinese think their time on the global stage has come, they aren't likely to back down anytime soon. That spells
trouble for American manufacturers with global supply chains. Undoubtedly, it will accelerate the reshoring of items now sourced in China. As companies rethink their supply chains, they ought to seriously consider embracing a new manufacturing technology that's now ready for prime time: 3-D printing.

No longer relegated to trinkets and prototyping, 3-D printing, which is also called additive manufacturing, is now moving into mass production. Printer makers have solved a variety of quality, cost, and speed problems to the point where printers can compete with conventional manufacturers at volumes of tens or even hundreds of thousands of units.

That's true even when the individual 3-D printer factory makes only a few hundreds of units, because it won't depend as much on economies of scale. Parts made in small American factories will cost nearly the same as those made in giant Asian plants — especially since these highly automated printers require less labour than conventional processes. So 3-D printing is tailor-made for reshoring — bringing production back home to be closer to customers. Not only does it lessen supply chain risks, but it weakens China's advantages in manufacturing.

The U.S. military has already been working on additive as a quicker way to supply repair parts to remote locations and to make ultra-light, high-performance fighter jets. More broadly, the Obama administration set up the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center ("America Makes"), a technology support program in Youngstown, Ohio. But the Trump administration is looking to ramp up those efforts with tax breaks and direct subsidies to companies that bring military supply chains home.

Those supports will be crucial to getting manufacturers on board with the new technology. It will take time and effort: Additive manufacturing require a steep learning curve for engineers used to working on conventional assembly lines, and each part must be tested extensively to make sure it holds up under wartime conditions.

Additive manufacturing just passed a major test when GE certified parts for the new GEnx engines in Boeing 747s. If additive can stand up to the rigors of jet propulsion, then it can handle most any military demand.

Speeding up the adoption of additive is still going to be a challenging investment, even with Pentagon subsidies. But companies making the upfront investment will likely reap even greater rewards down the line. As I described in "The 3-D Printing Playbook," the payoff from additive will build over time. Organizations will gradually revamp their operations to take advantage of its flexibility and versatility well beyond the factory floor. From product design to customer outreach, additive enables a fully-digitized enterprise that is hyper-responsive to market trends.

Companies that move especially quickly could pioneer the next stage of additive manufacturing. Because 3-D printers are so versatile, they can go from one kind of product to another with minimal time and cost for the switchover. That means companies can move from industry-specific factories to plants that produce for multiple industries. If demand in one industry slows, the company can switch some printers over to industries that are hot — and keep the factory's capacity utilization high.

Once factories develop the software to coordinate and optimize these multi-industry operations, we'll see the emergence of "pan-industrial" corporations. From the outside, these behemoths may look like conglomerates. But on the inside, thanks to the digital integration enabled by additive, they'll achieve a variety of cross-division synergies. Imagine a "Universal Metals" pan-industrial that makes drones, jeeps, and mortars.

Once a pan-industrial perfects its integration software, it's likely to create a software platform for suppliers and distributors to join. That's the only way to fully optimize the value chain around additive. And as we know with Google and other software giants, the more companies you have on the platform, the stronger your platform will be. Pan-industrials could eventually create dominant ecosystems based on their integration platforms.

Other industries besides defence are likely to work on additive-driven reshoring and pan-industrialism. Jabil, the giant contract manufacturer, has been buying up numerous printers and integrating them into its sophisticated supply-chain software platform. Until the slide in the company's fortunes generated leadership turmoil, General Electric had been making progress as well.

The defence industry won't be alone in pushing the additive frontier. It just may have the greatest urgency.

Sources of information was used for preparing this article:

  1. Harvard Business Review

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