Apr 25, 2016 | By Tess

As we continue to see, through the development and increased adoption of 3D printing technologies, the additive manufacturing industry is on a clear rise. For those wondering, in exact numbers, how the industry’s growth can be measured, a study issued by multinational professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) entitled “3D Printing comes of age in US Industrial Manufacturing” sheds some light onto the matter.

The study, which is a sort of follow-up to their 2014 study called “3D Printing and the new shape of Industrial Manufacturing”, outlines how the technology is maturing and is becoming more and more viable for a wide range of businesses. Specifically, the study investigates to what extent manufacturing businesses have integrated the technology into their processes, and how they believe the technology will advance in the future. As the introduction to the study explains, “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.”

The study’s findings have been broken down by PwC into three comprehensive categories, defined by shifts in expectations surrounding the 3D printing industry. The first shift shows that manufacturers have been using the technology more for making rather than tinkering. As it explains, since 2014 about the same number of American manufacturing companies have been using 3D printing technology (up from 67% to 71%), but the number of them using additive manufacturing for prototyping and final products has risen from 35% to 51%. Additionally, only 17% of companies are using the technology simply to experiment how it may be useful, a drop from 29%.

The second shift has to do with the expected rise for 3D printing for high-volume production. As the study summarizes, “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.”

How manufactuers are currently using 3D printing technologies

The third section investigated what manufacturers believed to be the most disruptive aspects of 3D printing technologies. The study found that 22% of manufacturing companies believed that 3D printing could be most harmful or disruptive in terms of having to restructure supply chains, while an equal 22% thought that the technology’s most disruptive qualities would have to do with the protection of intellectual property. Alternately, 18% of manufacturing businesses believed the technology could affect their relationships with clients. In the report issues two years ago, PwC found that the only main concern about implementing 3D printing technologies had to do with restructuring supply chains.

The study also finds some decreases in expectations for the uses of 3D printing. For instance, PwC reports that there was a slight drop (from 57% to 52.8%) in manufacturing companies that believed 3D printing would be useful in the production of after-market parts within the next 3-5 years. Additionally, only 64% (down from 70%) believe that 3D printing will have wide ranging applications in the making of obsolete parts in the next 3-5 years.

Is 3D printing expected to be adopted by more than 50% of manufacturer

The study also shows that more manufacturers are expected to adopt 3D printing technology into their processes, though less companies believed this would be the case in the 2016 study than the 2014 study. As the study explains of this slight drop, “Perhaps this suggests that adopters of emerging technologies assume that they are further ahead in the adoption curve than their manufacturing counterparts are.”

The PwC study surveyed 120 American manufacturing companies, and as Bob McCutcheon, PwC’s US Industrial Products leader said in an interview, “I think we're beginning to see exponential growth in 3D printing. It takes time for the technology to advance, and it takes time for early-adopters to have proven concepts. When we first started talking about this, not many were talking about it. Now, 3D printing is a daily topic of conversation in the manufacturing environment. It has become, conceptually, mainstream. The number of adopters in the survey show that most companies are planning to use this in some way.”



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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