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3D Printing: A threat to traditional manufacturing or not?

6 Nov 2012, by Informa Insights

It’s been hailed as Australia’s chance to revive the manufacturing industry. Its growth and potential to expand has gotten our curiosity piqued. Call it what you like; additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping or advanced manufacturing, 3D printing handles materials like plastic, wax, polymers and metallics, and is used across industries for aircraft development, building design, organ reproduction and even food creation.

We ran a poll recently asking industry leaders what they think about the future of 3D printing. Will it take over from traditional manufacturing or will it become a niche market?

The results are in.

70% of recipients think that 3D printing will become a niche market while the other 30% of recipients voted that it will take over from traditional manufacturing.

How about an elaboration on the point?

We asked some experts what they think:

“I don’t think 3D printing will take over traditional manufacturing. I think it will compliment traditional manufacturing and have success in a lot of areas, especially with products that are not commercially viable in smaller quantities or are just too complex. Niche markets are okay too. I like to keep in mind that even if 3D printing grew to 10 times it’s current size, it would still be less than 1% of manufacturing globally.”
John E. Barnes, Leader, CSIRO Titanium Technologies

“3d Printing will over time replace a lot of the traditional methods of manufacture. As more materials are available and production speeds increase people will adopt 3D printing as there preferred way of manufacturing. 3d printing has some distinct advantages over traditional processes and as long as it can deliver equal or better quality products then the customer will switch. There will be some speciality or niche markets open up as 3D printing allows some unique designs and procedures to be possible that traditional manufacturing techniques haven’t been able to do especially in the medical field. Existing customers will always make there final decision on whether to change on a number of factors, cost, quality, safety, reliability and delivery just to name a few. They will always use their existing supplier as a benchmark to see if switching to 3D printing is for them.”
Richard Mayo, Director, Protobuild Limited – Concepts Made Real

“3D printing is one form of additive manufacturing. It will not in itself take over traditional manufacturing. However additive manufacturing including laser melting technologies will impact on most areas of manufacturing.

3D printing started over 30 years ago in the form of rapid prototyping. More recently it has moved into the area of shaping powdered metals such as titanium. Additive manufacturing gives greater design freedom and allows some structures that cannot be manufactured in any other way.

Additive manufacturing is being used in orthopaedic implants, aerospace and automotive components. It is also now being used to manufacture tooling for casting and injection moulding processes.”
Bruce Grey, Managing Director, Advanced Manufacturing CRC

“It won’t replace it altogether. The laws of thermo-dynamics get in the way. What it will do is disrupt a significant part of manufacturing as it enable fabrication that is relevant to person and their community. It is already changing how we fix items at home in that we can produce items that we can’t find in stores. That democratization of the means of production is where it will have the biggest impact. At any point in history where we have democratized access to resources we have seen a fundamental shift in the how people engage with the world around them.”
David ten Have, Chief Executive Officer, Ponoko

What do you think?

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