Additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, has been used primarily by companies to create prototypes. The process enables product engineers and designers to tweak product models quickly, easily and affordably before entering into full production using traditional manufacturing methods.

Currently, only .01% of manufacturing output is done using 3-D printing methods.[1] However, 3-D printing is beginning to enter mainstream manufacturing processes as companies embrace the benefits it offers. 3-D printing can enhance product design and development; streamline the machining, tooling and fabrication processes; shift production to lighter materials; and simplify the assembly of multiple parts in a complex product.[2]

An attractive benefit of 3-D printing is that it enables a high degree of customization. PwC recently reported 98% of hearing aids manufactured worldwide are produced using 3-D printing, as the process enables cost-effective, precise manufacturing of a unit fitted to the user’s personal ear shape.[3] Meanwhile, aerospace and defense manufacturers are using 3-D printing to make critical airplane components and low-scale production parts that require high performance and quality.[4]

Analysts expect the increasing use of 3-D printing processes in manufacturing to grow in market value to nearly $33 billion by 2023.[5] Desktop printing units are the most popular for developing functional parts using plastics and metal.

A recent PwC report noted 3-D printing will transform manufacturing processes in several ways:[6]

  • Production processes will be simplified and quickened as 3-D printing enables refinement of a single digital design over time.
  • The technology removes traditional manufacturing constraints, allowing for more complex and intricate designs that incorporate multiple materials in new ways.
  • Companies can shift a portion of their manufacturing into an on-demand service offering, providing customers with access to printers and their capabilities.
  • Production waste is reduced, promoting the efficient use of materials. PwC projects that overall manufacturing scrap waste could fall by 21% over the next 30 years.
  • Equipment utilization rates will increase using 3-D printing, reducing companies’ overall capital expenditures.

[1] “Five ways 3-D printing is changing manufacturing,” PwC blog, April 30, 2017. Available at: http://usblogs.pwc.com/emerging-technology/5-ways-3d-printing-revolutionizes-manufacturing/

[2] “3-D printing in manufacturing (infographic),” PwC blog and infographic, April 29, 2017. Available at: http://usblogs.pwc.com/emerging-technology/3d-printing-transform-manufacturing-infographic/

[3] “Five ways 3-D printing is changing manufacturing,” PwC blog, April 30, 2017. Available at: http://usblogs.pwc.com/emerging-technology/5-ways-3d-printing-revolutionizes-manufacturing/

[4] “3D Printing Market Worth 32.78 Billion USD by 2023,” press release from Markets and Markets, July 5, 2017. Available at: http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/3d-printing.asp

[5] “3D Printing Market Worth 32.78 Billion USD by 2023,” press release from Markets and Markets, July 5, 2017. Available at: http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/3d-printing.asp

[6] “Five ways 3-D printing is changing manufacturing,” PwC blog, April 30, 2017. Available at: http://usblogs.pwc.com/emerging-technology/5-ways-3d-printing-revolutionizes-manufacturing/

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