Gary Tierney, MD HP Ireland, discusses the opportunity 3D printing presents for Ireland

3D printing is changing everything we know about industrial production: how we conceive, design, produce, distribute and consume just about every product on earth. It’s turning the world’s $12-trillion manufacturing industry on its head and will impact virtually every area of the economy.

Who will take the lead of this manufacturing revolution is still up in the air – and is a question governments and businesses alike need to be asking themselves.

Full circle

3D printing is rapidly generating a whole new model of industrial production. It is updating manufacturing for today’s hyper-connected, digital economy – while bringing back the benefits of long-disused methods.

Think back for a moment to a time before the first industrial revolution, when products were designed and produced by artisans. They were bespoke, produced on-demand, and meant for local consumption.

The first two industrial revolutions – powered by steam and electricity – put an end to that model, by separating design from manufacturing.

However, the two functions remained geographically co-located – that is, until the age of IT and the internet. This third industrial revolution connected the world and did away with the need for physical proximity between design, production and consumption. So, today’s manufacturing paradigm became: produce goods where costs are lowest and transport them to where there’s demand.

It’s a model that places enormous distances between manufacturing and consumption, necessitating long and complex supply chains. These are not just costly; they’re also rigid, which makes them ineffective at matching supply and demand, requiring goods to be moved around the world, which is damaging to the environment.

3D printing is reclaiming the power of the custom production and applying it in the digital era on a global scale. It enables businesses to accelerate design, innovation and production, while reducing costs and driving more flexible supply chains. And it is improving the sustainability of manufacturing, by centralising production, which diminishes the need to ship goods from place to place.

Keeping pace

As 3D printing begins to replace traditional means of production, it is estimated that the global 3D printing market will be worth €20.7 billion by 2022. In Ireland, we have a genuine opportunity to be a major player in the new global manufacturing order.

We have already seen huge advances in 3D printing across the country, particularly in the construction and pharma industries.

Earlier this year, Henkel Ireland celebrated the opening of its new Innovation and Interaction Centre for 3D Printing in Dublin, representing an investment of €18 million. The investment will allow Henkel Ireland to focus on developing new advanced materials for use in precision manufacturing industries such as medical devices and aerospace.

Henkel is already working in HP´s open materials community to develop substances for HP´s powder fusion based Multi Jet Fusion technology. In addition, the company has become the first global reseller of HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing solutions to enable qualifications among industrial production.

Elsewhere, AMBER, the materials science research centre based in Dublin, recently announced the development of a €4.3 million 3D printing laboratory that will play a key role in helping to uncover new materials and printing methods. AMBER aims to develop industrial applications of 3D printing, such as design flexibility, product customisation, and minimisation of material waste compared to subtractive manufacturing.

Seizing the opportunity

The Henkel and AMBER examples show that demand for industrial 3D production is already significant. In the coming years, more businesses will look to embrace its potential, especially as the technology continues to advance at pace – as shown by HP’s metal 3D printer announcement this week.

The Government must play a leading role in order to ensure this transformation is as effective and beneficial to the country as possible. It can do this in three main ways.

Firstly, it must help accelerate the adoption of 3D printing, by supporting uptake of the technology among small firms who might otherwise struggle with costs, and by also removing trade barriers on 3D printers and materials.

Secondly, it can nurture the necessary ecosystem via grants and tax breaks for investment in digital manufacturing capabilities.

Lastly, it must tackle skills – ensuring current workers in the manufacturing industry have the ability to retrain and fill roles created by the 3D printing revolution, as well as ensuring the right classes and courses are on offer to students coming through the education system.

It isn’t a matter of if 3D printing will change the industrial landscape, but when. The Government – but also businesses, educators and industrialists – have a responsibility to ensure Ireland is ready to reap the rewards.



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