PWC and the Manufacturing Institute has put out a new report on additive manufacturing (or 3D Printing – 3DP as they call it): 3D printing and the new shape of industrial manufacturing. (Click here for the full report in PDF format.)
Their bottom line:
• Manufacturers–from small job shops to multinational industrial products firms–are crossing the threshold from tinkering with prototypes to the production of final products.
• 3DP has the potential to shrink supply chains, save product development times and increase customization offerings to changing customers with expectations that products be tailored to their preferences and needs. Indeed, 3DP has arrived on the factory floor and into R&D.
• According to a PwC survey of US manufacturers, two of three companies are already adopting 3DP in some way — from experimenting with the technology to making final products.
One of the points I find so interesting is that last bullet about the widespread use of some form of 3D printing. Note that I carefully use the term “3D printing” rather than “additive manufacturing.” That is because few of the uses are for actually manufacturing. Most companies use it only for prototyping (24.6%) or are just “experimenting to determine how we might apply” (28.9%). Only 13.1% are actually manufacturing using additive techniques (9.6% prototyping and limited production; 2.6% production for products that cannot be made from traditional methods; 0.9% for final products/components).
According to the report, one of the most likely uses for actually additive manufacturing in the near term is in after-market and obsolete parts production. Such a widespread use could dramatically change the inventory and delivery components of the manufacturing cycle by creating a one-off “Just in Time” system for end use consumers.
The report also sees increased use in the near term of additive manufacturing for low-volume, highly specialized products. Like many analysts, they see additive manufacturing complimenting/supplementing rather than replacing traditional manufacturing.
Also like many other analysts, they see additive manufacturing as a “double-edge sword” for workers: displacing low skilled factory floor workers while creating highly skilled jobs for technically trained workers. Interestingly, they find that almost half of the companies interviewed felt that there is a “lack of current expertise in our company to fully exploit the technology.” This points to a large opportunity for our educational and training systems.
The challenge will be especially great for the worker training system to make sure that workers are trained in these new skills. That includes not just technical skills in operating the machinery (aka printers) but also design skills to take advantage of the technology and business skills to develop new products and markets.
I’ve noted before that additive manufacturing is a disruptive technology. This report gives us a better understanding of the current view from the manufacturing world. As the report states, “there are signs that the technology is on the cusp of being mainstreamed …” Companies and individuals need to get ready for the disruption.