3D printing comes of age

Brid-Aine Parnell

Thursday 27 April 2017

Another much-hyped technology is finally going mainstream, driven by cheap prices, new materials and growing manufacturer adoption.

As with so many hyped technologies, 3D printing has taken its time to come to maturation, but experts predict its time is now, fuelled by massive growth in the manufacturing industry.

Global spending on both desktop and industrial printers reached nearly $11 billion in 2015, according to IDC, and forecasts predict that figure will more than double – to $27 billion – by 2019.

This rise is fuelled by two major factors: increasingly cheaper and more useful 3D printers, and the growth in additive manufacturing as a mainstream production method.

Factory fashions

A 2014 PwC study found 66.7 per cent of respondents were experimenting with 3D printing to see how they might use it, but only one-quarter planned to adopt it in future. When PwC issued its follow-up report in 2016, however, it became clear that a high percentage (51 per cent) of companies were using 3D printing for prototyping and making their final products.

“Quite simply, 3D printing is becoming mainstreamed as we witness the technology cross the threshold from ‘advanced’ to ‘conventional’,” the report stated.

Greater adoption, cheaper prices

In good news for firms with tighter margins, more companies adopting 3D printing means cheaper prices for printers. The will see more firms move to additive manufacturing, particularly as 3D printers are increasingly able to use different materials for their layering production, including metal, ceramics and graphene.

Additive manufacturing is the revolution the printing industry has been waiting for. Instead of factories that require huge investments and a large backlog of orders to be profitable, additive manufacturing slots into the ‘just in time’, customisable production world that consumers want – and that companies can take advantage of.

Efficient economics

Small startups can now sell new products without having to build a factory or run up a line of items to then sit in a warehouse. Instead, they can issue orders to the growing world of made-to-measure additive manufacturing factories that simply need the design to knock out the items desired by the company.

This efficient and economical manufacturing works just as well for large companies, allowing them to reduce warehousing costs and eliminate overstocking problems. It’s no wonder firms of all sizes are embracing 3D printing – now and into the future.

 

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