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More Manufacturers Adopting 3D, Addressing Challenges

 Chuck Alexander








By Chuck Alexander
Director of Product Management
Stratasys Direct Manufacturing

The pace of change in the 3D printing industry is so rapid and exciting that it’s difficult to keep up. To get a more complete sense of 3D printing’s current and continued impact on manufacturing, we looked to the wider professional attitude that prevailed toward 3D printing in 2015 by authoring an industry report based on a blind survey that was distributed to 700 professional 3D printing users.

The full report (which can be downloaded at covers 36 questions. Here, we’re answering what we’ve deemed as the three most relevant—questions that told us the most about the future of 3D printing in manufacturing, including:

  • Are more manufacturers bringing 3D printing
  • What is the current learning curve for a 3D printing system?
  • Is there a barrier to entry due to a lack of 3D printing design know-how?


Are More Manufacturers Bringing 3D Printing In-House?

The short answer is yes. A majority of respondents (73%) said they expect their in-house capabilities will increase over the next three years. But many (36%) also expect their outsourcing to grow. This is a clear indicator that in-house and outsourced 3D printing is not an either/or predicament. In many cases, companies do both.


What is the Current Learning Curve for a 3D Printing System?

As much as we like to imagine the 3D printing process is as easy as simply pushing a button, it actually requires a bit more training and experience than that.

Given that each 3D printing technology comes with its own learning curve, finishing requirements, materials and design constraints, it isn’t surprising that 39% of respondents said post-processing requirements are a top challenge in using AM now and in the future.

Companies facing gaps in expertise, training and equipment turn to service providers. In fact, 73% of participants said they outsource 3D printing to a service provider to gain access to advanced equipment while another 40% partner with additive manufacturing service providers to bridge the equipment and expertise gap and to increase their 3D printing output. While many rely on outsourcing 3D printing today, these professionals recognize the need to train personnel on designing for the technology if they’re to bring 3D printing in-house down the road.


Is Lack of 3D Printing Design Know-How Still a Barrier to Entry?

As a service provider with more than two decades in the 3D printing trenches, we’ve observed that designing for 3D printing is not intuitive for engineers trained in conventional manufacturing and still presents a hurdle for younger engineers who have yet to participate in physical production. But we see the design-knowledge gap decrease every year, and our report points to one reason why: 40% of respondents are investing in training for designers and engineers specifically in AM processes and 19% are recruiting employees who can attest to experience or familiarity with additive manufacturing.


The Future State of AM

Where do these statistics leave us with regards to the 3D printing industry moving forward? If you’re already investing in 3D printing or partnering with an outside service provider, it should give you peace of mind to know your peers are doing the same.

But for any manufacturers who haven’t yet started using 3D printing, they better start looking at it now, or they’ll fall behind and find it difficult to catch up.

This article was first published in the May 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read “More Manufacturers Adopting 3D, Addressing Challenges” as a PDF.

Published Date : 5/1/2016

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