3-D printing isn’t a new technology but it’s recently been gaining more attention in the business and popular press. Companies like GE are incorporating it into their manufacturing processes; NASA is planning to send a 3-D printer to the International Space Station; and UPS will be introducing 3-D printing services into some of its stores. Gartner, a market analysis and statistics company, predicts that the 3-D printer market will grow from $288 million to more than $5.7 billion by 2017, while Credit Suisse, a multinational financial services company, projects a 20-30 percent annual growth for the industry over the next several years.
Businesses throughout the supply chain need to prepare for changes as 3-D printing becomes more integrated into the manufacturing process.
Business benefits fuel growing popularity
3-D printing is an additive process. It uses a 3-D software model to produce an object, building it up layer by layer using a single plastic or metal material or a combination of materials. Recent improvements in the 3-D printing process and dramatic reductions in the cost of printers and raw materials have increased its popularity.
There are two classes of 3-D printers available today. The “prosumer” versions cost a few thousand dollars and serve craftspeople, artisans and other casual users, who may obtain 3-D models from sites like MakerBot. The second class of printers includes the heavy-duty models designed for business manufacturing. These cost tens of thousands of dollars and are likely to have the greatest impact on supply chain businesses.
– By Mary Lou Jay