Is 3-D Printing REALLY Such a Big Deal?

3-D printing has gotten a lot of hype in the media and is something we’ve followed pretty closely.  But, is it turningMakerBot out to be mostly sizzle with very little bacon?  The folks at McKinsey & Company would beg to differ.  In a recent post, Daniel Cohen, Matthew Sargeant, and Ken Somers argue that we’re just at the beginning of the 3-D revolution:

3-D printing, or additive manufacturing,1 has come a long way from its roots in the production of simple plastic prototypes. Today, 3-D printers can not only handle materials ranging from titanium to human cartilage but also produce fully functional components, including complex mechanisms, batteries, transistors, and LEDs.

The capabilities of 3-D printing hardware are evolving rapidly, too. They can build larger components and achieve greater precision and finer resolution at higher speeds and lower costs. Together, these advances have brought the technology to a tipping point—it appears ready to emerge from its niche status and become a viable alternative to conventional manufacturing processes in an increasing number of applications.

The authors list five types of disruptions likely to emerge as this technology develops and spreads:

1. Accelerated product-development cycles

. . . .Over time, 3-D printing will begin to affect how companies think about R&D more broadly, given how the technology enhances the ability to crowdsource ideas through remote cooperation. For some companies, that crowdsourced brainpower might one day begin supplanting R&D activities, making its management a new priority. . . .

2. New manufacturing strategies and footprints

As of 2011, only about 25 percent of the additive-manufacturing market involved the direct manufacture of end products. With a 60 percent annual growth rate, however, that is the industry’s fastest-growing segment. As costs continue to fall and the capabilities of 3-D printers increase, the range of parts that can be economically manufactured using additive techniques will broaden dramatically. . . .

3. Shifting sources of profit

. . . . The outsourcing of conventional manufacturing helped spur companies such as Nike to rely more on their design skills. Likewise, 3-D printing techniques could reduce the cost and complexity of other kinds of production and force companies to differentiate their products in other ways. These could include everything from making products more easily reparable (and thus longer lived) to creating personalized designs. . . .

4. New capabilities

. . . .While there is a wealth of knowledge around design for manufacturing, much less is available on design for printing. Our conversations with executives at manufacturing companies suggest that many are aware of this gap and scrambling to catalog their design know-how. . . .

5. Disruptive competitors

. . . .New businesses are already popping up to offer highly customized or collaboratively designed products. Others act as platforms for the manufacture and distribution of products designed and sold online by their customers. These businesses are gaining insights into consumer tastes and building relationships that established companies could struggle to match. . . .

The full post is here.


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