Adoption of 3D Printing Grows, but Hurdles Remain

By Nathan Eddy  |  Posted 2014-12-16 Print this article Print
3d printing and gartner

R&D engineering or manufacturing are the primary influencers driving any 3D printing strategy, according to a report from Gartner.

Sixty percent of organizations said high start-up costs are a main factor in the delay of implementing 3D printing strategies, however, early adopters of the technology are finding clear benefits in multiple areas, according to a survey from IT research firm Gartner.

Of those surveyed, 37 percent had just one 3D printer within their organizations, with 18 percent owning 10 or more, while the average number of printers per organization was 5.4.

Respondents felt overwhelmingly that using a 3D printer as part of their supply chain generally reduces the cost of existing processes, especially research and product development costs.

"We believe that manufacturers will be adding capabilities to their 3D printers before reducing prices with the result being better performance for basically the same investment," Pete Basiliere, research vice president of imaging and print services at Gartner, told eWEEK. "We are at an inflection point now with the number of printers sold to private and public sector enterprises poised to more than double year-on-year beginning in 2017."

The mean cost reduction for finished goods is between 4.1 percent and 4.3 percent, which suggests that early adopters of the technology are finding clear benefits, which are likely to drive further adoption.

The survey also revealed that while prototyping, product innovation and development are the main uses of 3D printing, the technology is also being used extensively in manufacturing applications, as well as for innovation purposes and to improve or expand the product line.

"The dominant channel for 3D printers has been direct sales," Basiliere said. "However, that is evolving now that the value and potential of 3D printing is recognized worldwide. The result is that manufacturers are partnering with dealers in countries where they cannot cost-effectively market their systems."

Despite this ongoing evolution, 53 percent of survey respondents indicated that managers of research and development (R&D) engineering or manufacturing are the primary influencers driving any 3D printing strategy.

"Actually, the range of vertical markets is quite wide, from dentistry to jewelry, aerospace to automotive, children’s toys to military hardware," Basiliere said. "The question is best answered by noting that companies with a culture of innovation and a willingness to be on the leading edge of market and product innovation are the ones most receptive to 3D printing."

While the chief information officer (CIO), chief technology officer (CTO) and others outside of operations groups do play a role, they are not the primary decision makers, the survey found.

"Finished piece quality trumps all other decision factors according to our global survey results," Basiliere said. "Designers and engineers insist that the finished item meet or exceed the performance characteristics of traditionally manufactured alternatives."

The survey participants were 330 individuals employed by organizations with at least 100 employees that are using or planning to use 3D printing.


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