3D Printing is Finally Changing the Manufacturing Landscape

3D Printing is Finally Changing the Manufacturing Landscape

For fast-moving companies like Airbnb, Stripe, Uber, Facebook, or Slack, the piping – such as the internet and smartphones – is already well-established, allowing these startups to scale at unprecedented speeds.

A LONG TIME COMING

The rise of 3D printing reached peak hype years ago – and as far back as 2014, we were illustrating how 3D printing could ultimately shape the future of business. However, since those days, the technology has arguably fallen into the dreaded “trough of disillusionment” category on the famous Gartner Hype Cycle.

The harsh reality is that it’s just really hard to move things like 3D printing forward at the same type of speed as software. For the technology to scale at a commercial level, products would need to be flawless and intuitive from the get-go (they weren’t), and all engineering, technological, and design problems would need to be solved at lightning-quick speeds. Instead, it takes huge amounts of research, investment, patience, and iterations to get to the next level.

BUILDING FROM GROUND UP

3D printing has now permeated practically every industry in at least some capacity, being used in a wide range of sectors from consumer goods to pharmaceuticals.

According to a report by EY, the potential for additive manufacturing is highest in the automotive and aerospace industries. For example, it’s expected that about half (49%) of automotive companies will use 3D printing to directly manufacture car parts in order to achieve operational efficiencies. These companies believe that 3D printing will help them address challenges such as demand for increased customization, continued improvement, and lightweight components.

As a result of increased demand and more familiarity with the technology, Gartner said shipments of 3D printers increased 108% between 2015 and 2016, resulting in 456,000 units shipped globally. More importantly, by 2020 this number will be at 6.7 million units, which would represent phenomenal growth for the technology.

As of today, most companies are still using 3D printers for accelerating product development, such as prototyping (34% of applications) and for proof of concept (23%). However, as 3D printing gets more use in additional areas – such as mass customization and collaboration on products – it’s possible the ship will really begin to sail, even if it was slightly delayed in getting out of the gate.