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Innovating Cheaper Components for 3D Printing

by APICS staff | N/A 2013 | 13 | 5

One of the barriers to entry in 3D printing is the high cost of plastic filament used in production, even as the price of the printers themselves continues to drop. Inventables, an online 3D printing store, recently challenged its community to come up with a low-cost, open-source device that can inexpensively convert plastic pellets__about 10 times cheaper than filament__into filament. Time reports that 83-year-old retired manufacturer Hugh Lyman has claimed the $40,000 prize.

The Lyman Filament Extruder II melts down pellets and squeezes the resulting molten plastic product into a coiled filament. Homemade filament can improve the economics of 3D printing, and Lyman’s machine is able to be downloaded by enthusiasts. The parts needed to make the machine cost less than $250, per the rules of the Inventables contest. 

Empty Shelves at Many Walmart Stores 

Retail giant Walmart is having trouble keeping its shelves stocked, Bloomberg News reports. “We run out quickly and the new stuff doesn’t come in,” said Bill Simon, executive vice president and US CEO, last month during an officers’ meeting. 

While Walmart has a reputation as a leader in logistics and supply chain, in 2011, the company hired consultants Acosta and Retail Insight for advice on how to keep shelves stocked. The consultants tracked the availability of hundreds of items, and some store greeters were reassigned to replenish merchandise. Walmart once sought to streamline shelves and reduce clutter, but recently employees have been returning more merchandise to shelves.

Evelin Cruz, department manager at a Walmart Supercenter in Pico Rivera, California, says she sees many gaps in Walmart inventories. “We are not talking about a couple of empty shelves. This is throughout the store in every store. Some places look like they’re going out of business.” 

Green Building Increasing Globally

More companies are seeing opportunities in green building, according to a report from McGraw-Hill Construction based on a survey of architects, engineers, contractors, consultants and building owners in 60 countries around the world. About 51 percent of respondents say more than 60 percent of their work will be green by 2015, a significant increase from earlier surveys.

“This report confirms that the green building movement has shifted from ‘push’ to ‘pull’__with markets increasingly demanding no less than green buildings,” says John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer at United Technologies Climate, Controls, and Security. According to the report, the key driver of green construction is that it has become a business imperative around the world. Meanwhile, the most-used metric to evaluate green building performance is lower operating costs.

Reshoring Is Not the Only Solution to Create Jobs

While many major companies are moving some manufacturing back to the United States from other countries, it’s not enough to spur major job growth, the Los Angeles Times reports. The main reason is manufacturing has changed since it departed from American shores and become more automated. While many companies make pledges to move manufacturing, they are in fact moving only small parts of large global operations to be nearer to US markets. 

For Just-in-Time service, manufacturing in the United States makes sense, says Jonathan Simon, CEO of 1888 Mills, which is moving some production to Georgia. However, he adds that low-cost Asian manufacturing will remain the best way to produce in volume.

While manufacturing jobs will grow, “it’s not going to be a big source of total employment,” says Tom Runiewicz, principal of industry practices at IHS Global Insight. “It’s just a drop in the bucket.”

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