Given all the noise around 3D Printing, it’s easy to see why non-engineers often champion the technology as a panacea for manufacturing change. 3D Printing can be used to reduce part weight, reduce raw material consumption, enable cost effective low volume production, enable personalization and customization, support new retail models and supply chains and allow for highly complex geometries to be made with little if no cost penalty, adding value and function through a single manufacturing step. BUT, and it’s a big BUT, these benefits are not always (if seldom rarely) manifested in a single product or for that matter a single sector. Moreover, the barriers to technology adoption can be significant for some companies and can differ greatly from one vertical market to another.
So how can we better understand the nuances of 3D printing?
To better understand the benefits and barriers (at least within some businesses), Stratasys Strategic Consulting recently facilitated a 2-hour workshop at the Form-next trade fair in Frankfurt with companies from the automotive, electronic, consumer goods, medical and defense sectors. Our goal during this short session was to develop a simple ‘high-level’ map showing how the views of different industry verticals differ when considering the drive towards 3D printing adoption for end-use part manufacture, and of course the barriers preventing adoption.
So what can you do in 2-hours?
The assembled companies were posed a series of questions about the socio-economic changes and mega-trends driving them towards the adoption of 3D printing as a manufacturing solution. The companies were also asked to quantify what stops them today from the wide scale implementation of 3D printing technology on the shop floor and across the supply chain. To understand the detailed questions used in the session, take a look at the slide deck used to facilitate the session.
So what did we learn in two hours?
Below we can see some of the trends in the data from the short workshop, where the center of the chart represents little in the way of influence, with the outer of the chart signifying significant drivers to technology adoption or where significant barriers exist.
- The consumer product sector believe that the drivers for 3D printing adoption will be centered on increasing the functionality of the product being manufactured and enabling higher level of product innovation, as opposed to simply personalizing the outer housings of products to consumer ergonomics
- The automotive industry sees the primary benefits of adoption centered on improving the product proposition through increased functionality, as well as personalized vehicle embellishment and the manufacture of premium products enabled by the geometric freedoms of 3D printing.
- Interestingly the automotive industry actors engaged in this session did not see the technology as a key enabler for improved sustainability, unlike the Electronics and Consumer products sectors who see the disruptive potential of 3D printing having a direct benefit to the supply chain and future waste streams.
- Contrary to media speculation, the automotive sector does not see the ability to engage in localized manufacture as a primary driver, suggesting it may be some time until car dealerships are printing vehicle parts.
- The primary drivers for the Medical sector were found to center around enabling localized production, as well as reducing the cost of products. This will come as no surprise given the pressure on global healthcare providers to reduce waiting times, increase efficiency and decrease costs. However, the Medical companies engaged in this session were less concerned about sustainability or ability to support their aftermarket.
- Size constraints of 3D printing machines were not considered to be a barrier for the medical industry, which is relatively unsurprising given the dimensions of medical devices and implants.
- Heavily regulated industries such as Defense and Medical felt that their companies would struggle to adopt new technologies (because of quality and repeateability issues) and that there would be significant validation issues, while industries such as Automotive and Electronics did not feel that this would be such a barrier.
- The Automotive and Medical industries believe that the materials currently available for AM do not align to their industry needs; however, this is perceived to be less of an issue for the Electronics industry.
- Automotive and Medical companies also saw the cost of AM as being a significant barrier to wider AM adoption, but this view was not shared by Defense companies.
So what does this tell us?
Nothing in life is simple and 3D printing is no exception. There is no one blueprint for the successful adoption of 3D technologies. Not only is every sector different, as we have demonstrated here, but every business is different, with differing strategic imperatives, different plans for the future, different people and skills and very different infrastructure.
However, it is possible to make a 3D printing value assessment on any company if you know how. In a few weeks’ time we will be posting a new animation that we are working on right now, which demonstrates how we help companies to develop 3D printing corporate strategies and the stages and steps we go through from generating new product and process ideas, through to understanding life cycle economics. Why not subscribe to the Stratasys Strategic Consulting Blog and be one of the first to see in detail how we operate.