How 3D Can Make Your Manufacturing Business More Competitive

A report by PwC and the Manufacturing Institute report published this month, “3D printing comes of age in U.S. industrial manufacturing,” outlines 7 ways 3D printing is disrupting U.S. manufacturing, drawn from the responses of 120 U.S. manufacturing professionals in PwC’s  2016 Disruptive Manufacturing Innovations Survey.

Here are several findings which point to a majority tipping point, and we feel it’s critical that your business is prepared for the already-started shift.

“42% believe that, in the next 3-5 years, 3D printing will likely be primarily used for high-volume production.”
  • 71.1% of U.S. manufacturers are applying 3D printing technology in some way, up slightly from 67% in 2014. A higher percentage of manufacturers, compared to two years ago, are using it for prototyping (31.4%), the production of end-products (6.6%)—or both (13.2%).
  • More manufacturers (42%) now believe that, in the next 3-5 years, 3D printing will likely be primarily used for high-volume production, up slightly from two years ago, when 38% felt that that was the case.
  • Just over half of U.S. manufacturers (52.8%) believe that, in the next 3-5 years, 3D printing will be more useful in producing aftermarket parts or products, slightly down from 57% two years ago.
  • 64% of manufacturers expect that, in the next 3-5 years, 3D printing will be used to produce older, obsolete parts—down slightly from 2014, when 70% believed that would be the case. These older parts will alleviate the need to warehouse original parts and thereby cut costs.
  • 56% believe that more than half of their peers in the U.S. will adopt 3D printing in the next 3-5 years
  • The most commonly cited barriers to adopting 3D printing among manufacturers are cost and lack of talent and current expertise (41.3% and 42.1% respectively), followed by uncertainty of quality of the final product (33.1%) and printer speed (25.6%).

When asked which aspects of their business 3D printing could potentially disrupt, if or when the technology is widely adopted, the two most highly cited responses were restructured supply chains and threat to intellectual property (both at 22%).

Louis Columbus, commenting on the report in Forbes, wrote that the leading barriers he’s seen “are resistance to change and the belief that existing prototyping and production processes can scale for the speed and complexity of future customer demand.” … “Forward-thinking C-level management teams are pushing beyond that status quo and measuring manufacturing outcomes from a customer perspective,” he said.

In addition, an increasing number of manufacturers are creating great media buzz with their 3D printing projects. Last month, GE began testing the largest jet engine ever built, the GE9X— which was made with 3D-printed parts, according to Quartz magazine.

The 19 3D-printed fuel nozzles helped reduce the engine’s weight by 25% and increased fuel efficiency by replacing conventional nozzles that had more than a dozen welded parts.

“The GE9X is more efficient, more powerful, and more heat resistant than its predecessors,” Quartz wrote. “The GE9X was designed for the Boeing 777X, expected to be the most efficient twin-engine jet when it takes flight toward the end of the decade.”

An article in PSFK highlights “one of the most astonishing products to emerge” from the 3D printing movement thus far: a full-fledged car, which came out of a collaboration between Europe’s largest engineering firm Siemens and automotive manufacturer Local Motors.

With Siemens’ specialized Solid Edge software, the team at Local Motors “was able to quickly transition from concept to car with the simplicity of direct modeling (a method of designing which allows one to interact with designs like pushing, pulling or twisting items) and the flexibility of synchronous technology (a type of software that enables you to edit designs across different CAD systems—in this case Solid Edge),” PSFK wrote.

“Additional software from Siemens will soon be implemented to help us push the boundaries of direct digital manufacturing even further,” Local Motors’ chief strategy officer Justin Fishkin told PSFK.

Are you testing 3D, using it for prototyping or even for full-fledged parts? Remember, this technology is advancing so rapidly that it’s important to continually reevaluate your opportunities and think outside the box. Stand still for even a few months and you could quickly fall behind.

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