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Industrial 3D Printing: A Revolution in Manufacturing

By Dick Weisinger

Two-thirds of industrial manufacturers are beginning to explore the use of 3D printing (3DP) technology.  Those manufacturers are using 3DP to build prototypes and create final products, as reported by PWC in a recent report.

President Obama in both his 2013 and 2014 State of the Union speeches talked about how 3DP has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing.  The total 3DP market size is expected to grow to more than $10 billion by 2021.

Increasingly 3DP is allowing companies to produce products easily in very small quantities, the so-called ‘lot of one’ model.  Many see 3DP as an ideal way to be able to continually and cost-effectively create replacement parts for products with long lifetimes.  Before 3DP, often the replacement of obsolete parts was considered cost prohibitive.  The PWC survey found that 70 percent of manufacturers expect to be producing obsolete and hard-to-come-by parts with 3DP in the next three to five years.  Half of manufacturers expect to use 3DP for the production of after-market products within five years.

Mark Thut, principal at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, said that “companies recognize that if this technology continues to develop, it could be a real change in manufacturing competitiveness.”

Bob McCutcheon, US Industrial Products Leader at consulting firm Price Waterhouse Cooper, said that  “applying 3DP for rapid prototyping is nothing new for many manufacturers as it enables them and their suppliers to sidestep the often laborious and costly traditional processes.  However, we’re starting to see signs that the technology is on the cusp of becoming mainstream, and companies need to understand the disruptions and the opportunities that it could create.  When you add 3D printing to the mix, there is a compelling argument to shift the cost curve back to the States (from low cost destinations, such as China and India).”

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