Back in 2013, I wrote a blog post about 3D printing and whether it was going to be the next “big thing.” At the time, the commentary within manufacturing circles was mixed, at best, as manufacturing leaders wondered whether 3D printing would remain a specialty process mainly used by large OEMs such as Ford, GE, etc.
Seven years later, not much has really changed. I recently read an article in Industry Week by Avi Reichental, a CEO of a 3D printing company, that is appropriately titled “Slow and Steady Wins the 3D Printing Race.”
The article still mentions GE’s efforts to use 3D printing along with some other stock examples that you see in many articles. Mr. Reichental then goes on to say:
But when implementing 3D printing, it’s important to have a plan. The additive manufacturing industry has grown so quickly over the past decade that it’s easy to want to jump straight into the deep end and bring its agility to your business. And in the wake of COVID-19, when the strength and efficacy of 3D printed solutions have been tested under fire and shown themselves to be truly innovative and effective, it’s understandable that a manufacturer would want to establish additive manufacturing as part of their production plan, and establish it fast.
After describing the momentum that Mr. Reichental says exists, he cautions against moving too quickly and provides some sound advice as to what steps to take if you are considering wading into the 3D printing pool.
In my view, the article provides a good summary of where things stand with 3D printing for industrial manufacturers.
- First, even seven years later, 3D printing has had trouble gaining traction in a lot of manufacturing companies. During my factory visits, the printer is often still in the corner where manufacturers experiment.
- Second, I think it is fair to ask whether 3D printing will ever become the disruptive technology that was predicted by scores of commentators in the past decade. Perhaps the success or failure of the technology does not depend on whether it replaces traditional manufacturing systems, but rather, whether it can simply serve a useful purpose.
- Finally, there is no question that 3D printing assisted both manufacturers and entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 crisis as evidenced by the calls I received from people around the country who wished to use printers for PPE. Time will tell what the long-term impact of 3D printing will be.