Emerging technologies such as 3D printing (3DP) will have a massive impact on the manufacturing industry in the years to come. Right now, 3DP is in its infancy and finding its footing in enterprise applications and use cases. But over the last one year or so, industrial 3DP (additive manufacturing (AM) has found acceptance and is on its way to go mainstream.
Take for example, General Electric (GE), which produced fuel nozzle for its GE90 aircraft engine or Phoenix based Local Motors, which produced its first 3D Car – LM3D Swim that had about 75 percent of its parts 3D printed. Another interesting case is that of Pune based non-profit -Social Seva, which has set up a low cost 3D print filament facility through its arm Photoprint to help the waste picker community.
McKinsey estimates that 3DP or AM market will be $20 billion by 2020 and the overall economic impact created by AM would be about $250 billion by 2025. Gartner predicts that industrial 3DP is ready for a widespread adaption.
3D Printing – Current status
Experts believe that 3DP will not entirely substitute traditional techniques of manufacturing across all industries, but would rather complement them. However, there is scope for 3DP to substitute (in a large way) traditional manufacturing techniques in certain segments such as Automotive, Aviation, Defence, Healthcare and Medical devices. Not surprisingly, the aforementioned segments have witnessed many use cases over the last few years.
Gartner recently released the 3D printing Hype Cycle, which shows the evolution of all existing 3D printing applications and their levels of maturity. There are five levels, each of which showcase a few applications:
On the Rise – 3D printed workflow software, 3D printed drugs
At the Peak – 3D printing in retail, class room 3D printing
In the Trough – 3D printed medical devices, 3D bio-printed human tissue
On the Slope – 3D printing in automotive, 3D printed dental devices
Plateau stage – 3D printing for prototyping, 3D printing for hearing devices
Source: Gartner 2017 3D Printing Hype Cycle. Illustrative image recreated basis the Gartner Hype Cycle. See the more detailed and precise infographic here.
Benefits of 3D Printing
Some of the advantages and benefits of 3D printing are –
Customization – Provides customers option to choose the material, design, shape, size and packaging as far as productions are concerned
Saving on Cost – Allows for reduction in costs due to non-requirement of production runs and prototype injection mould tools
Feel and Feedback – Allows for creation of an exact prototype for customers to ‘feel’ and provide valuable feedback for any necessary changes
Quicker Time-to-market – Allows for a much quicker time-to-market through design and development in quick successions
Breakthrough Advantage – Allows for a product developer to make breakthroughs at early stage leading to better and qualitative products at lower costs
Though there are multiple advantages to 3DP not many industry segments have embraced this as the core technology for various reasons. Some of these challenges are – limited knowledge on 3DP, high costs of printers and materials, limited inputs for materials, lack of technological maturity for most industrial grade applications and of course, low speed of production.
Factors influencing 3D printing
The widespread adoption of 3D printing will depend on following factors –
Printer, material, and scan costs
Process speed and quality
Intellectual property challenges
Warranty and liability issues
McKinsey report states, that to fulfil the complete potential of 3DP or additive manufacturing companies need to think and go beyond mere prototyping to understand what this technology can do for production. Reduction in costs and time of production is likely to drive 3DP’s widespread adoption across various manufacturing industry verticals.
To conclude, 3DP is here to stay. While consumer 3DP received much publicity in the initial stages, it is industrial 3D or additive manufacturing that will make the most significant impact in the time to come. It will continue to drive disruption in the manufacturing industry and find widespread acceptance provided the five aforementioned factors are kept in consideration.