I interviewed George G. Arenas who discussed The Contribution of 3D Printing to Innovation and International Business.
It’s great to speak with you today, George. I’m looking forward today to talking about the topic of the contribution to 3D printing to innovation and international business. Before we start, can you provide a brief background of yourself?
Sure. Dustin, thanks for interviewing me; this is an exciting topic. Actually, it’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. My background actually has two chapters; I’m an international marketer and I’m also an entrepreneur and innovator. Call me a product developer.
The first half of my career was international marketing, primarily in the automotive aftermarket. I worked with some of the leading brands in the United States—Pennzoil Quaker State—and we had a portfolio of automotive aftermarket brands. I was also the international sales manager for Winner International; we manufactured the Club steering-wheel lock.
The first half of my career was international marketing, and then I became an entrepreneur. I developed a retractable car seat cover, and from beginning to end, I commercialized, designed, patented, developed the product, commercialized it. I consider myself to be an international marketer and product developer.
Thanks. My first question is: What is 3D printing?
That question is so broad and dynamic because 3D printing is such a large entity, I’ll call it. I’m going to give you a fraction of what it is. Most of your listeners probably are aware of 3D printing as being an additive manufacturing process as opposed to subtractive manufacturing, where a product can be built layer by layer by layer. That’s common knowledge.
When approaching this question, I’m going to look at it in an analogy. I consider it to be a disruptive technology that introduces manufacturing efficiency. I like to use analogies—and I’m going to use the analogy of snail mail versus e-mail. Basically, 3D printing does to manufacturing what e-mail did to snail mail. When I say that I mean it leapfrogs into a new level of efficiency. In the past we used to use mail, and it was a very physical process. You would manually write a letter and you would have it touch a number of hands to get to its final destination. It was a very physical process, and many hands touched the letter when it was going from point A to point B.
With e-mail, a lot of that was digitized, and that basically added this efficiency where you didn’t need to have so many hands touching the process, and that’s pretty much what’s happening with 3D printing. Manufacturing, in general, used to be a very physical, hands-on process where people would use their hands to make a product. That is changing now with 3D printing because it’s becoming more of a cerebral process where a person can make a product digitally. That adds a huge level of power in manufacturing. Basically, we’re really moving from a hands-on process to a mind process. That’s the biggest—well, it is just one of the bigger disruptive features of 3D printing. You could literally go and talk about many, many other disruptive features, but this is the one I wanted to highlight in our brief conversation.
What is the contribution of 3D printing to innovation and international business?
Well, innovation and international business forever have been business activities that were essential, but they were relatively slow, they had an element of risk to them, and they were generally expensive. They still are, actually. In business, whether you’re innovating or whether you’re thinking of taking a product internationally, it’s generally a slow process and it involves a huge amount of risk and 3D printing is basically reducing these barriers.
Again, going back to the topic of manufacturing efficiency, the efficiency of 3D printing is accelerating. For example, when companies try to innovate, they try to fill fast. Innovation in the past has been a slow process. If you can imagine, when I was manufacturing my seat cover, it was a slow process, and it involved a lot of people and logistics issues. For example, I would have to send products to Asia, for example, where you are, and the back-and-forth communication and the opportunity for error and mistakes is magnified in the subtractive-manufacturing process.
By 3D printing being a digital process, all of a sudden, you’re able to innovate and create prototypes much faster. Things that took months and years can be changed in days and hours. Really, there’s a level of efficiency and innovation where I imagine that the level of innovation is going to accelerate because you can make products and test them and make a prototype within a day or two and find the errors in your products faster and improve them.
In years past, to innovate something, to create a new product and bring it to the market, if it took you a year to bring a product to the market and you brought this brand-new market, inevitably, there’s going to be something that you could improve upon, or there could be a quality issue. Well, now, instead of waiting that whole year to find a quality issue or an improvement possibility, you can find that in days and weeks. That alone is a huge disruption.
When we’re talking about 3D printing, I think one of the biggest benefits to innovation is speed. Since time is money, that can translate very easily into money and profits for companies. That also translates into lower risk because bad products can be avoided, and good products can be brought to market faster.
On the international-business side, I think we’re going to be entering a very new view at international business. Again, going to the theme of international business being slow, expensive, and risky, if we just look at logistics issues, the world is always getting smaller, and the reason it’s getting smaller is these technological leaps that are provided by the Internet. If you think of years gone by, when I used to look at getting into a market, one of the biggest considerations was always: How much is it going to cost me to bring a product into country X, and what is the least expensive way of getting it there? When you’re bringing a new product into a country outside of the U.S. or to a new market, the logistics cost causes so many different hands to touch a product to get from point A to point B.
As an international marketer, you try to minimize and reduce the number of hands that touch a product and that gets into the market. Well, what 3D printing does is add a whole new level of efficiency. Actually, we’re removing the number of hands that are touching a product during production. That’s extremely powerful because instead of having to consider shipping costs, inland freight costs, and duty costs, the digital delivery of a digital file that gets printed in a foreign country pretty much eliminates a huge amount of cost.
It makes me wonder how commerce is going to deal with duties, for example, because now products are able to be delivered in the country digitally. That’s going to bring some interesting opportunities and also very new business models. You’re going to have new approaches to markets that we haven’t even seen yet. I guess, all in all, 3D printing is making the world smaller and it’s bringing manufacturing closer to the consumer. Again, all of this is serving to make international business faster, less expensive, and it’s reducing the risk.
In both cases, whether you’re talking about innovation or international business, I see 3D printing as accelerating everything, reducing the cost, and I see the world getting smaller and receiving better products faster, thanks to 3D printing.
My last question is: How can companies take the next steps with 3D printing?
At this point in the game, you’re probably going to be taking baby steps because 3D printing is, I guess, evolving. Right now, as a company, a logical first step would be to use either available technology. Depending on your budget, if you’re into product development, you might either bring in a 3D printer that fits your budget to make prototypes—that’s one way. If you can’t afford a 3D printer, depending on the complexity of the products you make, you can outsource, because, little by little, there are more companies coming up that are getting into rapid prototyping, so it’s becoming more accessible. That’s something that can be done right now to save money on innovation, to accelerate the speed of innovation, but, over time, what you’re probably going to see is larger printing service centers located in different parts of the country or parts of the world, and that’s going to be an exciting thing. There are companies out there that are developing printing centers worldwide. That adds some excitement and some reach, and that’s only going to grow.
Right now, I would say just get access to a 3D printer and test it out; see if it can fit within your internal company innovation process. I think once you dip your foot into the 3D pond, it’ll open your eyes, because once you see its capability, you’ll start to look for other opportunities and you’ll start to embrace it. It’s a new technology and it’s exciting and it is going to grow. Right now I would just basically get access to 3D printing through a service provider or a machine that can fit within your budget to test out prototypes and go from there; see where this evolves. I think within the next five years, you’re going to see some exciting stuff.
Thanks, George, for sharing today.
Oh, Dustin, thank you. It’s always fun to talk about this topic. It’s one of these topics we could talk about for hours and hours on end because there’s so much more to it. I just really spoke about one aspect of it; there’s a lot more and I encourage your listeners to really take a good, close look at it.
About George G. Arenas
George G. Arenas
Owner, Armarko Inc.