Are 3D Printing and Robotics taking the “Man” out of Manufacturing? | Redmond Economic Development Inc.
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Are 3D Printing and Robotics taking the “Man” out of Manufacturing?

Are 3D Printing and Robotics taking the “Man” out of Manufacturing?

The theme of REDI’s 2017 Annual Luncheon, held May 17th at Eagle Crest Resort, was 3D and Robotics: Manufacturing our Future. Technology advancements are driving automation in American industries, and while 3D printing and robotics have been around for years, now more than ever these technologies are touching our everyday lives.  Over 150 attendees were on hand to hear presentations from some of the area’s leading industry experts, including pre-note speaker Paul Benning of HP. Benning set the stage to show how the world of printing has changed from something flat on paper, to 3D. An interactive panel followed, sharing insights into trends and challenges that face this growing industry.

Below is a recap of the panel presentation relating to man and machine, what is currently happening, and what to expect in the future of 3D printing and robotics:

Q. How is this technology being applied in today’s industries?

A. It is currently used to build car and aircraft parts; doctors are using 3D printing for bone replacement in knee and shoulder surgeries; autonomous cars and unmanned aircraft are already a reality.

Q. What are future market opportunities?

A. Imagine having your own 3D printer in your home, just like a personal computer. One can print a new coffee cup or a replacement door knob. The technology can be used for cancer treatment, while surgeons can 3D scan and print a new femur if needed. Perhaps a robotic kitchen chef can prepare your dinner and have it ready when you arrive home from work?

Q. What is seen as the greatest “threat” posed by these technologies?

A. Fear of Technology – In the short term, this advance is an unpopular view. Machines will inevitably take over some manufacturing labor; however, this opens a new territory with new jobs that we don’t know exist yet. Medically, these technologies allow experienced doctors to focus on critical parts of a surgery, leaving the less critical yet necessary procedures to Nurses or Physician Assistants, promoting a more efficient work flow. 

Cost - Primarily in health care. Purchasing a million dollar machine that can manufacture a new 3D scanned bone and training people to use it effectively is very costly. As with any new technology, the battle is to reduce cost to the end user. On the manufacturing side, these technologies can result in cost savings, i.e. not having to spend time on casting and molding to create a template to manufacture an OEM car part that is no longer in production.

Workforce - Educators are already three years behind in creating a skilled workforce. There has been a generation gap in the industrial sectors, manufacturing being among them. Aerospace manufacturing and auto manufacturing are working with colleges and universities to design courses and certifications that can meet requirements needed to service these new technologies. The goal is to find a balance of engineering and manufacturing with education by combining continued education and specialized on-the-job training.

Q. Where is the U.S. from a competitive standpoint with the rest of the world?

A. The Asia/Pacific region is the world leader, accounting for 65% of current robotic spending. In Japan, 30% of lawns are mowed by robots. Metals and 3D printing are 10 times more advanced in the Asia/Pacific region than in the U.S. Worldwide spending on robotics and related services is projected to grow by 17% a year to reach $135.4 billion by 2019, with healthcare being one of the fastest growing opportunities for this sector.

If you’re wondering if 3D and Robotics are taking the man out of manufacturing the answer is yes and no. Out of 752 robotics-related startup companies 75% address new areas, not existing ones, including unmanned devices (25%), agriculture (6%), mobile platforms (7%), service bots (10%), healthcare (7%), consumer products (9%), and the educational and hobby markets, (5%). Attendees to REDI’s 2017 Annual Luncheon learned that while man may not be entirely replaced by machines or robotic technologies, their skill sets may need to be reinvented to discover new enterprises that don’t yet exist.