3D Printing The Next Layer Collapsing Technology?

Robert McCutcheon PwCWe all expect 3D Printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing, to be a disruptive. Or is it everyone who expects it? Will 3D Printing become the next technology to collapse layers in manufacturing just like the software and communications layers I’ve been discussing?

PwC just reported on its 2015 survey of manufacturers’ experiences and attitudes toward the technology. The results are somewhat mixed, as you would suspect given how new the technology is and how rapidly it is gaining acceptance.

PwC’s Robert McCutcheon posted a blog on LinkedIn introducing the latest results. I’m quoting the post here:

There are many different types of technology that are at the fingertips of manufacturers looking to become the next Factory of the Future. But there’s still that hesitation, there’s still the question: Is 3D printing (3DP) just hype?

According to PwC’s recent study, it’s not. In fact, it’s become quite clear that the technology, also known as additive manufacturing, is crossing from a period of experimentation to one of rapid maturation. Industrial 3D printers, once almost exclusively used for prototyping, are now on some of America’s factory floors and being rolled out on production lines.

How do we know?

Two years ago, PwC tested the waters to figure out to what extent U.S. manufacturers were adopting 3DP into their operations and how they expected the technology to play out in the future. In our latest report, we share what’s changed and the three most significant shifts that have emerged:

  • More “doing,” less experimenting: Fewer manufacturers (17% versus 29% two years ago) are simply experimenting with 3DP to figure out how to use the technology. Now, just over half are using it for prototyping and final-products versus 35% two years ago.
  • Greater expectations: Two years ago, just 38% of manufacturers expected 3DP to be used for high-volume production over the next 3-5 years. Now, 52% do. Interestingly, we saw a drop from 74% to 67% in the number of manufacturers that expect 3DP to be used for low-volume, specialized products.
  • 3DP is still disrupting, though how it’s disrupting continues to evolve: Twenty-two percent say it will be disruptive to restructuring supply chains. The same percentage say it will threaten intellectual property.

Eighteen percent believe it will change relationship with customers. Two years ago, the primary concern was how it would disrupt the supply chain.

In “3D Printing comes of age in US industrial manufacturing“, we dive further into these three shifts and uncover sentiment from 2014 versus today. What’s clear is that the growth in 3DP and the range of ways it’s being implemented is demonstrating 3DP will be an important discussion to how manufacturers are assessing, shaping and expanding their businesses.

However, no matter where one is on the adoption scale, there are questions that must be addressed.

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