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Lean manufacturing is a topic every company in today’s market is considering. How do we reduce time and waste? As we become more lean, we expect to also reduce costs and increase revenues. 3D printing is one of the newer technological developments that is projected to have a big impact on lean marketing as explained in the article “Next-Level 3D Printing with Metal” (http://www.mbtmag.com/blog/2014/01/next-level-3d-printing-metal). But while most 3D printers we know are smaller, plastic using machines, there are consistent developments in the metal 3D printing industry that are poised to amplify additive manufacturing’s reach. Per the article, Michigan Technological University scientists have invented a 3D metal printer which is estimated to cost around $1,500, and have also posted the instruction to build and operate the software/firmware online. With these types of discoveries taking place, it is important to analyze the pro/con ratio.

What are the pros?

  1. More Opportunity for Improvement: With the printer’s plans being available online, anybody with the resources and skill can build their own 3D printer, and make their own unique innovations. This will also extend past Michigan Technological University’s machine design, but to the entire metal 3D printing industry.
  2. Levels the Playing Field for Smaller Businesses: Currently, most 3D printing is done by large commercial businesses. With the development of low-cost metal printing machines, metal 3D printing becomes more accessible to everyone.

What are the cons?

  1. More Safety Concerns: Simply stated, metal printers are more dangerous than plastic ones.
  2. Limited Applications Currently Available: Because metal 3D printing is so new, there have been very few “hand in the pot”. Innovation and change are limited due to the lack of development and use. This is obviously expected to change as metal 3D printing becomes more accessible and used.

With so much hype surrounding 3D printing, it is certain to extend into the metal 3D printing sector as well. With so many commercial applications available, it seems fairly certain 3D printers will help increase both smart and lean manufacturing in the near future.