3D Printing Opportunities Are Cutting Across Every Industry

One by one, 3D printing—also known as additive manufacturing—promises to transform just about every type of manufacturing industry, as well as a healthy amount of logistics firms, in the U.S. and worldwide. CEOs and business owners in an increasing range of verticals must be aware of the opportunities—and threats—facing them.

May 7 2014 by Dale Buss

“Entire businesses that were ‘intermediaries’ in the supply chain between raw materials and final products may be shut out” by 3D printing, Thomas Kull, a professor of supply-chain management at Arizona State University, told Chief Executive. “Some consequences may be dire. Yet, new opportunities always seem to emerge.”

In shoe manufacturing, for example, New Balance, a challenger brand to Nike, invests heavily in 3D printing. “We think that 3D printing and some of the more innovative manufacturing methods, especially lean manufacturing, are really the future,” Rob DeMartini, CEO of Boston-based New Balance, told The Boston Globe.

Australia’s News.com notes that, already, companies are using 3D printers “to make everything from light fixtures to cups, plates, artwork, gadgets, instruments and jewelry.” And eBay has launched an app specifically to help entrepreneurs figure out what else they can make using the technology.

Meanwhile, as 3D printing increasingly enables local and small-scale manufacturing over the huge industrial complexes that have dominated manufacturing into the modern age, it’s “entirely feasible and entirely practical” that people will simply send files rather than ship products overseas, with mail service UPS already establishing 3D printing hubs around the United States, Dominic Paronson, national sales manager for Tasman Machinery in Australia, told News.com.

One plus for chiefs who must consider the ramification of 3D printing on their businesses is that it’s still very early in the game. A wait-and-see-approach, testing, or simply taking more time to investigate would not put any company at a disadvantage time-wise at this stage.

“It gets a lot of press, and it’s an intellectually stimulating area of conversation, but it’s not proven yet,” Russ Rasmus, managing director and practice leader for global manufacturing for Accenture Strategy, told Chief Executive.

“It will have a place going forward but it’s not proven yet. It’s still in the incubation state. So there are lots of opportunities out there, some of which we probably don’t understand yet, given that 3D technology itself is still emerging.”

Additional reading:

Will 3-D Printing Cause Traditional Manufacturing to Collapse?

SyncFab crowdfunds a new way to bring specialty manufacturing back to the U.S.

The Future Of 3D Printing And Manufacturing