3D printing – Will benefit communication industry?

3D printing – Will benefit communication industry?

By Dependra Lal

Communication technologies have become inevitable part of our day-to-day lives from mobile connectivity to home connectivity, office conferencing to remote surgeries – we’re all touched by it. These technologies have enabled connectivity across various people and process across the globe and ensured smooth functioning. Despite the ever-deepening reach of communications technologies, users still hunger for greater speeds, more reliable connectivity and high-performing devices to enhance experiences.

3D printing – spreading towards mainstream production

Additive manufacturing, also commonly known as 3D Printing, has been gaining traction in recent times across several industries viz. medical, aerospace, manufacturing and so on. Thus far it has been predominantly employed in rapid-prototyping & tooling rather than actual production.

With benefits such as accuracy and precision, shorter development cycles, reduced time to market & lower cost compared to conventional manufacturing, it is imperative the we  understand the potential of 3D printing in revolutionizing the communication industry, which is already struggling with its expenditure.

Bespoke, lower production costs & domestic production

With recent advancements in 3D printing and materials, it is now possible to develop highly customised products with precise shape and accurate dimensions ‘same size batches’ without an impact on costs per product and timelines. Also, OEMs can digitally store the product design and manage their physical production as per the demand or orders. Moreover, it allows better responsiveness to product design as per the demand and substantially reduces product time-to-market.

With high dependency on specific geographies or central hubs for manufacturing, 3D printing is revitalizing local production by introducing the concept of a decentralized approach. Once it starts integrating with mainstream production, it could potentially enable production close to the customer which would in turn lead to lower distribution cost and allow flexibility to make necessary changes according to domestic attributes in the products along with managing inventory ‘on-demand’.

Advancing into telecom territories

A use case in the communications space – Airbus is exploring 3D printing solution to augment radio frequencies and filter out unwanted signals something that is prone to noise interference. They have adopted metal 3D printing technique to manufacture ‘waveguides’ for telecom satellites. It helps them in terms of mass reduction, accuracy and precision of the components, which are very elementary in the industry. Reducing the mass leads to lower costs, along with improvements in design, something that has so far been difficult to attain in traditional manufacturing process.

Orange, an established telecom operator, has ventured into 3D printing space to increase its footprint in renewable energy market. The operator has employed additive manufacturing in developing a prototype – New wind turbines more specifically micro-turbines, that can be shipped and installed easily in remote as well as urban locations while mobile connectivity offers metering, monitoring and optimization of performance.

So far, 3D printed components are slightly expensive at mass scale. However, with the expiration of patents it is likely that the overall manufacturing cost will come down considerably.

Conclusion

3D printing offers flexibility in the design, manufacturing, and distribution of complex components as well as helps reduce production wastages. As telecom companies start embracing industry 4.0, the integration of smart manufacturing and advanced information technologies will take center-stage. With benefits such as time & material efficiency, rapid prototyping, and decentralized production, 3D printing is slated to play a prominent role in industry 4.0. Thus, in the long run, telcos, & OEMs will definitely benefit from lower product cost and faster time to market