Has 3D printing (3DP) finally come of age? It’s become clear that the technology, also known as additive manufacturing, is crossing from a period of hype and experimentation into one of rapid maturation. 3D-printed parts and products are quickly making their way into end products—from a printed car to athletic shoes to a printed NASA rocket engine. Manufacturers of all stripes are building 3DP programs and are likely to continue to expand those programs as advancements in 3D printers, software and printing materials (or “inks”) make adoption easier and more cost-effective.
According to our survey, we find some interesting shifts in how 3D printing is being applied by manufacturing.
While roughly the same percentage of US manufacturers are currently adopting 3DP in some way (roughly two-thirds) a higher percentage (51%) are using it for prototyping and final-products compared to two years ago (35%); meanwhile, fewer are simply “experimenting” to determine how they may use the technology (17% vs 29% two years previously).
More manufacturers (52%) expect 3D printing to be used for high-volume production in the next 3-5 years, compared to two years ago (38%). Meanwhile, those expecting 3D printing to be used for low-volume, specialized products in the next 3-5 years slipped slightly to 67% from 74% two years ago.
Manufacturers are evenly split on 3D printing’s role in after-market parts production. Just over half of US manufacturers (52.8%) believe that, in the next 3-5 years, 3D printing will be more useful in producing after-market 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.
Roughly two-thirds of US manufacturers surveyed are already using 3D printing in some way. Yet, when asked if they feel it is likely that more than half of their peers in the US will adopt 3D printing in the next 3-5 years, just 56% believe that that would be the case--perhaps suggesting adopters of emerging technologies assume that they are further ahead in the adoption curve than their counterparts.
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%). [Note: survey participants could choose any barriers that applied them; therefore, percent totals of all choices add up to greater than 100%].
Interestingly, manufacturers from our 2014 survey cited quality of the final product by far as the greatest barrier (at 47%), followed by lack of talent and expertise to exploit the technology, followed by cost concerns.
Manufacturers are equally split on what will be 3D printing’s most disruptive effect, with 22% saying it will be in restructuring supply chains, and another 22% that it will be threats to intellectual property, and 18% believe that it will be changed relationships with customers. Two years ago, the stand-alone, number-one concern was supply chain disruption.