Dec 13, 2017 | By Benedict

American research firm Gartner has forecast further adoption of 3D printing technologies amongst manufacturers of medical devices, aircraft, consumer goods, and elsewhere. As part of its Predicts 2018 report, the firm says 75 per cent of commercial aircraft will use 3D printed parts by 2021.

We see daily evidence that 3D printing has started to permeate all corners of manufacturing, from tiny medical devices to high-strength aircraft components. But what will be the ultimate effect of these changes, and how will companies’ business models change as a result of implementing additive manufacturing?

Gartner, one of the world’s most reputable research and advisory firms, has seen that evidence too, and has used its expertise and experience to make a new set of forecasts regarding the future of 3D printing. The predictions are contained within the 17-page Predicts 2018: 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing report.

Rather than deal in general statements and cold hard figures alone, this latest Gartner report for 3D printing in 2018 looks at three specific industries—medical devices, aircraft, and consumer goods—whose attitudes to 3D printing are said to be representative of manufacturing industries as a whole.

Gartner has some more general observations about how business practices are changing because of additive manufacturing. One big prediction is that, by 2021, 20 per cent of enterprises will establish internal startups to develop new 3D printing solutions. This is purportedly the best way for established companies to future-proof themselves against the threat of innovative external startups, and companies like Airbus, BASF, and GE are already following the model.

Another way that 3D printing is altering companies’ business models is an increase in 3D printing centers of excellence (COE), in which 3D printing workflows can be integrated into key business processes and training provided to supply chain partners.

Boeing, Johnson & Johnson, Rolls Royce, and Siemens have all established such centers, which can a) refine existing 3D printing methodologies, b) operationalize 3D printing technologies, and c) create metrics to focus on design improvements, process standardization, and quality and inspection process improvements.

3D printing in aerospace

Although there aren’t a huge number of companies making 3D printed parts for the aerospace industry, aerospace remains one of 3D printing’s biggest conquests, largely because of the huge amounts of money involved in the industry. Additive is currently used to make prototype parts, as well as tools, jigs, fixtures, and even finished goods.

Examples of 3D printing in aerospace include GE Aviation’s Advanced Turboprop engine design, which has converted 855 conventionally manufactured parts into 12 3D printed parts, and Boeing’s 3D printing of aircraft parts at 20 sites in four countries. Over 50,000 3D printed parts are currently being used on Boeing aircraft. Gartner predicts that 75 per cent of new commercial and military aircraft will fly with 3D printed engine components, airframe parts, and other bits by 2021.

3D printing in medicine

Another massive chunk of the world’s 3D printing activity takes place in the medical sector, where additive manufacturing is used to fabricate implants, medical tools, and much more besides. Almost three per cent of large hospitals and medical research institutions now have 3D printing capabilities on site, but that number is likely to increase.

Gartner says that we’ll see a big difference over the coming years in which kinds of hospital start using 3D printing and how they start using it. At present, most of the technology is found teaching hospitals and specialty centers, in what Gartner calls “back-office labs,” but 3D printers will soon become commonplace at the forefront of ordinary hospitals around the world.

As the volume of medical 3D printing equipment grows, doctors will in turn demand more 3D printers and additive tools from their hospitals and surgeries. By 2021, 25 per cent of surgeons will practice on 3D printed models prior to surgery.

3D printing in consumer goods

Producers of consumer goods are currently enjoying the benefits of 3D printing as a rapid prototyping tool, but some sections of the massive industry are on the road to shaking up their supply chains thanks to 3D printing.

Gartner predicts that an increase in local 3D printing production facilities will help consumer goods manufacturers reduce inventory, ultimately saving themselves money. However, it concedes that many consumer goods cannot benefit from being 3D printed, and says organizations need to recognize where 3D printing is beneficial and where it is not.

In light of its consumer goods research, Gartner forecasts that 20 per cent of the world’s top 100 consumer goods companies will use 3D printing to create custom products by 2021.

3D printing in 2021:

  • 75% of new commercial and military aircraft flying with 3D printed engine & airframe parts
  • 25% of surgeons practicing on 3D printed anatomical models
  • 20% of top 100 consumer goods companies using 3D printing to make custom products
  • 20% of enterprises with internal 3D printing startups
  • 40% of manufacturing enterprises with 3D printing centers of excellence



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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