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