Feb 8, 2017 | By Tess

The International Data Corporation (IDC) has released findings from a recent survey that involved European aerospace and healthcare companies that have adopted 3D printing technologies into their workflow. According to the survey, companies in France, Germany, Italy, and the UK are leading the way in the adoption of additive manufacturing for finished products. And while the survey findings reveal the ways in which 3D printing is being successfully used in the aerospace and healthcare markets, they also point to many challenges that companies are still facing in fully integrating the manufacturing technology.

First, let’s take a look at the good. The companies surveyed highlighted some of the key draws of adopting 3D printing technologies for the production of finished parts. Namely, 3D printing has provided a manufacturing alternative that allows for lighter, more complex structures to be made; it has enabled short run production cycles (also helping to cut back on costs); and it can offer more flexibility to manufacturers compared to molding or subtractive manufacturing processes.

Not only providing an alternative to existing manufacturing processes, however, 3D printing has also allowed for wholly new parts to be created that would be impossible to make using traditional manufacturing methods. Complex parts that can be printed in a single go, for instance, would require numerous components and joint reinforcements to make otherwise, making them heavier or simply unfeasible.

Example of ​complex 3D printed part

Of course, there are still a number of areas in which 3D printing technologies can be improved (and are being improved upon regularly!). Through the survey, the IDC was able to identify a number of these areas, where companies still have reservations about the potentials of 3D printing technologies. They are: materials, hardware, knowledge, lack of industry-specific solutions, and regulatory compliance.

In terms of materials, the companies suggested that the currently limited range of 3D printing materials was one of the main inhibiting factors for adopting additive manufacturing in the aerospace and healthcare sectors. They said that the properties of existing polymers often fail to meet industry requirements, while metal 3D printing materials are still limited and often too expensive for regular use.

3D printing hardware was also cited as a challenge for the companies, who found that to comply with accelerating production demands, 3D printers would need to become faster and larger. According to the survey, reliability and maintenance of 3D printers were also significant inhibiting factors, with many of those surveyed citing downtimes of over 25%.

Metal powder for 3D printing

The third point, knowledge, is also notable, as companies found the lack of internal 3D printing knowledge to be a challenge in the adoption of 3D printing technologies. As the IDC stated, “In the technology implementation phase companies typically go through a long learning curve because of very limited internal knowledge and limited external support.” In terms of 3D printing design as well, companies are often lacking adequately trained staff. Possible solutions to this problem would be more consultancy and staff training services.

The penultimate problem concerned companies feeling that many 3D printing hardware and materials suppliers lacked knowledge and understanding of industry-specific manufacturing needs, especially within healthcare and aerospace subsectors. To overcome this challenge, vendors and users would need to establish better communication in order to account for industry-specific solutions. Finally, regulatory compliance has also been a big challenge for companies seeking to adopt 3D printing. As the survey says, “regulations move much slower than technology, and this can be a huge barrier to adoption.”

Mario Lombardo, senior consultant at IDC, said of the findings: “3D printing technology has come a long way in recent years…In order to further drive this industry, 3D print vendors face a number of challenges. Some of these challenges, such as device speed and reliability and material properties, will no doubt be overcome in time thanks to general technology advancements. Other challenges, such as lack of knowledge, lack of industry-specific solutions, and regulatory compliance, will require vendors to actively support customers and also work jointly within industry pressure groups to facilitate adoption."

 

 

Posted in Statistics

 

 

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