The Essential Eight technologies – Board byte: 3-D printing

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What should corporate boards know about 3-D printing?

Three-dimensional (3-D) printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process that allows solid, three-dimensional objects to be produced from digital models. These objects are created by building successive layers of material into a final 3-D piece. This technology was initially viewed as an efficient prototype generator. Its use has since expanded to production of finished, market-ready goods.

3-D printing allows more flexibility to create complex and customized designs. It also means more simplified assembly—and in some cases, no assembly at all—which could dramatically change supply chains. 3-D printing can also foster innovation and new product development. But until recently, the technology had not been technically advanced or cost-effective enough to be a practical alternative for most end-product or high-volume commercial manufacturing purposes.

Questions boards can ask management about 3-D printing:

Boards will want to understand the opportunities 3-D printing may present for the company’s strategy. Here are some questions boards can ask:

  • If you are building a new factory or modernizing a current factory, are you considering the impact of new technologies in your plans?
  • Could 3-D printing help our company digitize our manufacturing processes, improve parts or assemblies by simplifying them or collapsing them into fewer or single components?
  • How will 3-D printing impact our supply chain? What raw materials will be used and where will they be sourced?
  • What is the reliability of machinery? How long does it take to 3-D print the product? How do we maintain and secure the machinery and train people to use it?

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