Competition is King
Justin Coutu, the president of R&D Technologies, a Rhode Island supplier of 3D printers that distributes the devices in Massachusetts, said the technology is catching on with everyone "from Hasbro to Pratt & Whitney."
He said 3D printed prototypes in particular can be a key for manufacturers that want to protect their designs, and they can also help them win business.
"Going from concept to beta is a big deal," he said. "That's where you can completely lose a product … You have to get out faster than competitors. It's a cutthroat business world out there."
When it comes to consumer products, Coutu said, making quick prototypes can go beyond testing purposes and be part of a dynamic marketing strategy. He said snowboard makers, for instance, can print out bindings for the boards and use them in magazine advertisements and gauge consumer response before building molds and starting to make the real thing.
"You want to make sure you're getting orders, and it's well reviewed and the public's perceiving it as something they want to buy," he said.
Coutu said the possibilities for 3D printing can only grow, particularly as the 3D printing of metal products becomes more practical. Metal printing is already used for some precision aerospace parts, but the machines cost $750,000. Over time, though, he said their prices will certainly come down. In five years, he said, he expects replacement parts for cars to be made on the machines on a regular basis.
Like other types of 3D printing, he said, the shift will only mean good things for domestic manufacturing.
"In an economy where we need to keep things a little bit leaner, stop having China eat our lunch, we need to find ways to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. and do it effectively," he said.