As more companies embark on their digital transformation, they are increasingly reevaluating their manufacturing processes. They're exploring how 3D printing can enhance and augment traditional manufacturing methods.
Additive manufacturing is a powerful force within digital manufacturing, bringing new applications and markets into focus. In the future, the additive manufacturing market is predicted to reach $55.8 billion by 2027, according to a recent report by Smithers Pira.
Here is how we think the future of 3D printing will enable this journey:
Traditional manufacturing processes such as machining and injection molding have emerged as industry standards for high-volume mass production over the past half century. These methods make perfect sense due to their low cost and high quality, while 3D printing has been relegated to rapid prototyping and low-volume production runs.
Currently, only 29 percent of manufacturers are using 3D printing for production parts, according to a recent survey sponsored by Jabil. But as 3D printing becomes more efficient and the material offering expands in the future, we expect this figure to climb.
Siemens predicts that 3D printing will be 50 percent cheaper and up to 400 percent faster in the next five years. Therefore it should come as no surprise that 93 percent of manufacturers expect to grow their use of 3D printing for production parts in the next three to five years, according to the Jabil-sponsored 3D Printing Trends survey.
Distributed manufacturing is changing how companies are incorporating 3D printing into their digital strategy. Instead of considering a centralized solution, distributed manufacturing enables companies to decentralize production so they can manufacture the final product closer to the customer.
With 3D printing, manufacturers can better connect the physical supply chain with a digital thread and manage products more efficiently from concept to end-of-life. Manufacturing can be distributed to any location that has digital manufacturing systems in place simply by sending a file. This decentralization enables a more collaborative, transparent, and efficient supply chain orchestration.
According to a PwC survey of manufacturers, the most disruptive effects of 3D printing will be:
Sixty percent of manufacturers expect 3D printing use to at least double in two to five years, according to the 3D Printing Trends survey. As more companies use 3D printing in production, the budgets allocated for additive manufacturing will also grow. Fast Radius reports that 40 percent of companies expect their 3D printing budget to increase by more than 50 percent in the next 12 months.
Applications for 3D printing in existing markets will continue to increase in the future as today's production applications will be expanded by the capabilities of additive manufacturing. Industries such as aerospace and automotive have already begun adopting 3D printing to produce better performing parts while minimizing costs. But it's not just industrial markets that bring opportunity. New markets such as food, fashion products, eyewear and textiles are all set to be disrupted by 3D printing. Imagine the following scenarios:
With so many opportunities on the horizon, companies will have to focus which initiatives they'll invest to utilize additive manufacturing. The top three initiatives for investment include:
Developing a new production part can require multiple iterations and prototypes before the customer's needs are met. 3D printing enables rapid prototyping, which can reduce the time it takes to build a prototype from weeks to just 48 hours. This rate helps new parts move more quickly through the design cycle to production.
Producing a part on-demand with 3D printing enables manufacturers to print parts as needed instead of pulling the part from a supply warehouse. On demand production will help companies realize huge reductions in inventory and storage costs. In the automotive industry, for example, spare parts inventory could be reduced by 90 percent with 3D printing, according to a report from MIT.
Time-to-market is critical for brands that want to beat their competition to the store shelf, especially in New Product Introduction (NPI). With 3D printing, the manufacturing process can speed up significantly, helping brands design, manufacture and distribute products to consumers faster.
Several new markets and technological advancements are helping drive a 3D-printed future:
Healthcare is one industry in particular that will continue to be transformed by additive manufacturing. Use cases such as prosthesis manufacturing, bioprinting and medical implants are pushing the healthcare 3D printing market forward towards an expected $2.2 billion by 2024, according to Global Market Insights.
Traditional prosthetics have often been expensive and unflattering, with some costing as much as $100 thousand. Thanks to the evolving 3D printing technologies, these costs can be reduced by 99 percent or more. Personalized prosthetics can actually be more affordable for those who need them most.
Prosthetics are only the beginning for the healthcare 3D printing market. Researchers have been experimenting with bioprinting cartilage and bones using bio-ink containing stem cells. Considering the complications and complexity in organ transplants, as well as the mere shortage of donors, using stem cells to bioprint fully-functioning human organs open doors to a world of possibilities. Although we may not be there just yet, the future is bright.
Consider medical implants, another area 3D printing can transform the healthcare experience. Implants can often require complex shapes. With 3D printing, doctors can take a scan of the patient to develop a customized implant with the perfect fit. The whole healthcare experience can be personalized down to each patient. Dentists and hearing aid manufacturers have already been utilizing 3D printing to their advantage, but the true value of additive will show when we can truly transform the industry.
The future of additive manufacturing looks bright. In the future, 3D printing will position itself more prominently in the manufacturing landscape. As costs continue to reduce and processes become more efficient, the possibilities for use-cases will expand considerably.