Originally 3D printing, aka additive manufacturing, seemed more a Maker’s machine and novelty with possible future applications. “Printers” were developed for one material, and one company sold the package. I did not think deeply about the machines but continued to watch developments.

The first constraint I discovered for widespread manufacturing adoption was holding tolerances. Researchers and engineers have tackled that problem.

A recent survey of manufacturers revealed that virtually all (99%) manufacturing executives surveyed believe an open ecosystem is important to advance 3D printing at scale. While 85% of manufacturers reported that industrial-scale AM has the potential to increase revenue for their business.

However, the research sponsored by 3D printing / additive manufacturing company Essentium and said to be conducted by an independent global research firm also reported that 22% said their 3D printing efforts have resulted in vendor lock-in that limits flexibility. Note that Essentium manufactures open systems. I have witnessed and written about the value of open ecosystems as a fulcrum for fostering innovation. I don’t know enough to endorse Essentium, but I do endorse the concept.

According to Essentium, the industrial AM market has been dominated by closed systems where customers are locked into vendors’ hardware, processes and materials. As the technology obstacles around economics, scale, strength and speed of production fall away, the number of manufacturers using 3D printing for full-scale production has doubled compared to last year (40% in 2019; 21% in 2018). Manufacturers are now demanding open ecosystems to overcome system inflexibility and use the materials of their choice – 50% of companies said they need high quality and affordable materials to meet the growing demand for industrial 3D printed parts.

An open additive ecosystem will see more partnerships focused on giving customers greater control of their innovation, more choice in materials, and industrial-scale production at ground-breaking economics. Market demand for Essentium’s open 3D printing ecosystem, developed in collaboration with multinational chemical company BASF and 3D software developer Materialise NV, is a clear indication that an open ecosystem approach is addressing unmet needs in the industrial additive market.

Blake Teipel, CEO and Co-founder, Essentium, said: “At Essentium, we strongly believe that an open ecosystem will be key to the evolution of Additive Manufacturing. Being locked into proprietary solutions that limit flexibility and choice is no longer an option if 3D printing is to become a serious contender as an industrial process for end-use products. An open market focused on developing new materials and better and faster machines is the only way for manufacturers to unlock new applications and new business opportunities. With this approach, the future belongs to the customer, not to the OEM.”

162 managers and executives from large manufacturing companies across the world completed the survey on their current experiences, challenges and trends with 3D printing for production manufacturing. Participants included a mix of roles and were from companies across industries including aerospace, automotive, consumer goods and contract manufacturing.

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