As per recent reports from PwC, there has been a significant adoption in advanced manufacturing technology—especially Additive Manufacturing or 3D printing. The survey conceals that new technology is now stirring to up-end established markets as costs plunge and quality & performance rise. Alongside traditional manufacturing, there has been a rising wave of innovation with the capacity to transform existing markets and value networks. Sharing insights on this are Rajiv Bajaj, Managing Director—India, Stratasys AP; Sanjeev Baitmangalkar, Strategy & Lean Management Consultant, Stratmann Consulting and Dr Vishwas Puttige, R&D OSD, Ace Manufacturing Systems.
Innovation becoming disruptive
Innovation is not adequate to be considered disruptive – there needs to be a cost benefit before any new technology can obligate a momentous impression. Only when the value of a technology surpasses the value of a competing market does it officially become what we can call a disruptive trend. Conventionally, disruption and innovation doesn’t go hand-in-hand. But, today the manufacturing industry is witnessing disruptive innovation as a major trend. Speaking on this, Bajaj says, “3D printing or Additive Manufacturing has been one of the solutions that meet most the requirements that the industrial sector is looking for, while it happens to be an innovation that streamlines or disrupt the design and manufacturing cycle.”
Furthermore, Dr Puttige explains that this innovation has to be accepted by manufacturers and users, if not their existence itself maybe unsure. “To be able to grow in a dynamic scenario, it is not just sufficient to accept the change, but also adapt products or services suitable to the newer trends,” he opines. Today, as 3D printing becomes more accessible on a global scale, consumers have begun to innovate across a diverse range of industries. As a result, the process of Additive Manufacturing is beginning to create industry disruptions. Speaking on this, Bajaj highlights, “There have been many case studies where 3D printing works hand-in-hand with conventional fabrication within the industrial environment. This helps manufacturers and factory owners maximise their productivity with the best mix of solutions according to their business nature and needs.”
However, the problem with conflating a disruptive innovation with any breakthrough that changes an industry’s competitive patterns is that different types of innovation required different strategic approaches. Emplacing this, Baitmangalkar considers that with multiple manufacturers for the same product, it has become necessary to produce an innovative idea to survive and grow. “When ideas are galore, we will see market creating innovations that add to growth and jobs, else, we will see either sustaining or efficiency innovations that are either replicative in nature or the ones that either take away or do not add jobs. There can be no disruption without innovation,” he says.
Digital manufacturing era
Disruptive innovation not only hails technological advances, but also changes the market scenario. Considering the volatile manufacturing industry, whether innovation will make an impact or not is debatable. When asked, Bajaj asserts that change is at an early stage and the market will continue to evolve with the constant technological advancement and unleashed imagination from users. Considering 3D printing, he points out that as technology evolves and advances, 3D printing has more far-reaching impact than when it first started. He further explains that combining increased awareness and continuous knowledge transfer, some changes have been witnessed in the manufacturing sector, namely the rise of a digital manufacturing era, where economies of scale matter less and increasing manufacturers adopt low-volume or customised manufacturing to cater to customers’ unique requests.
The primary focus of information technology has been on driving improvements in business efficiency. As per Dr Puttige, the digital era has uprooted the entire manual paper-based activities. “The LED technology has eradicated many conventional industries. The smart phones also have removed the need for a lot of essential utilities, which were otherwise used as standalone devices. Some of the other areas in manufacturing include near-net shape manufacturing, Additive Manufacturing, low-pressure die casting, carbon fibre and other composites in place of metals,” he avers.
A disruptive innovator transforms existing markets and creates new ones by playing the innovation game, thereby, changing the business model in a fundamentally different way. Explaining this, Baitmangalkar lists a few examples— “Disruptions gives a more convenient alternate form of doing business in terms of efficiency innovation, such as e-commerce, advertising on search engines, data analytics; efficiency innovation that has disrupted conventional business models by re-imagining a new business model such as Uber, OLA, Airbnb and Fracking has shifted business dynamics making the product more accessible, affordable and easier to get and sustaining innovations, such as electric or hybrid vehicles, new age battery technology is on the way to disrupt the internal combustion engine and the fossil fuel industry.”
Disruption is not destruction
It’s quite debated that perhaps even more important than what 3D printing can build is what it can destroy. Conversing on this, Bajaj says, “3D printing is not here to destroy. While technology enables users to build tangible models and parts, it also challenges inherent ideas and existing workflows. Instead of making things through subtractive fabrication methods or handcrafting, things can be made more efficiently, with fewer materials and in shorter time. With such change in the way things can be made, more possibilities and opportunities arise for designers and manufacturers.”
Dr Puttige believes that Additive Manufacturing is a form of disruptive technology, which can disrupt the conventional subtractive manufacturing to a certain extent. However, he further believes that there are certain constrains to this which may make them only to reduce the need for the conventional technology of manufacturing. “With the increase in demand for smaller batches of manufacturing and customisation, there is a growing need for Additive Manufacturing,” he says.
Today, with Additive Manufacturing, many assemblies of parts can be produced in one print. This will reduce the number of conventional part count. It saves on manufacturing parts individually and assembling them, while improving quality and productivity. So, Baitmangalkar opines that 3D printing will not destroy anything, instead it will add better value. “When disruption or a new idea comes, it is very important to run with it, embrace the change rather than resist it. When manufacturers don’t change in response to disruption, they self-destruct, and they don’t have the advantage of being the first mover either,” he adds.
Coping up with current technical advancements…
Disruptive innovation is now becoming a very real part of the manufacturing industry and this has important implications for how we think about technical education and the education of skilled labour as well. Bajaj believes to stay tuned to the latest development in technology. “It may be wise for organisations to join technology workshops or seminars on a regular basis, or stay alert to the leading providers of the solutions that they are interested in,” he opines. Taking the idea further, Dr Puttige believes that new technology could be in products, materials or processes. “This will provide a value proposition and an edge over competition. Invariably, the trends are observed emerging at some of the advanced research institutes, displayed at exhibitions, or can originate from customer interactions,” he adds further.
As manufacturing has evolved significantly over the past years, so too have the innovations that resulted from developments in the technology landscape. To conclude, Baitmangalkar says, “Disruptive innovation will result in major changes, but they do not often rely on technological breakthroughs. The technology many times by itself may be trivial. Barriers to consumption come in different forms—skills, accessibility to solution, money, laws, cost, necessity, affordability, service and support, etc. Once you find that constraint in consumption, target that job to be done, thinking how you can play that innovation game differently. Remember, it’s not about doing it better; it’s about making it better, simpler, cheaper and more affordable.”