Digital manufacturing—industrial 3D printing in particular—has catalyzed world-changing ideas since its inception. This year, however, the technology proved invaluable, moving at warp-speed in the face of unprecedented challenges when the world was overtaken by a fast-spreading virus.
When traditional supply chains failed, workforces were displaced, economies bordered on recession, and the sustainability of ecosystems and communities was threatened, digital manufacturing was there. 3D printing provided a quick solution for manufacturing disruptions, produced personal protective equipment (PPE) near the hospitals that needed it, created strong competitive advantages for business of all sizes, and through the sharing of open-source design files, forged deeper levels of collaboration.
For our future, this technology plays an indispensable role: Digital manufacturing is charting an entirely new course, driving one of the biggest transformations of our lifetime. The advantages shown in 2020 confirm its staying power in an increasingly uncertain world, and looking to 2021, four key trends will be critical for companies.
Impenetrable Agility and Economic Growth
Reduced tooling costs. Less downtime. Affordable customization at scale. Faster speed to market. Nearly unlimited iteration capabilities. During the first months of the pandemic, these hallmarks of digital manufacturing not only got PPE into the hands of distressed medical staff in mere days but also allowed companies, at the height of economic disruption, to keep their lights on and continue planning for the future. Research from McKinsey Global Institute found that 85 percent of C-suite executives witnessed accelerated digitization and automation in their businesses this year.
HP surveyed thousands of manufacturing executives in key regions across the globe in the past several months about what their companies have experienced and where their attention is focused for the future. Roughly four out of five respondents intend to increase 3D printing investments for the same reasons the technology was so relied upon this year—the ability to increase agility and unlock growth at a greater capacity than traditional manufacturing.
Ask anyone in the manufacturing industry what makes digital manufacturing invaluable, and they will undoubtably agree: Its ability to drive innovation. Companies are in fierce competition for customers’ attention and loyalty—a fact that is only heightened by COVID-19. Winning both demands a personalized approach.
Direct-to-consumer models, on-demand production and streamlined digital inventorying allow for mass customization through digital manufacturing, which is great news considering 91 percent of HP’s survey respondents want to leverage mass customization as a means to explore innovation. The rapid adoption of this technology across industries from automotive to consumer goods to healthcare is a clear sign among business leaders that 3D printing enables faster innovation and more consumer centricity.
Technology Built for Collaboration
Early 2020 was characterized by atrophied supply chains. People were scrambling for masks. In some cases, two patients were dangerously connected to one ventilator. At this critical juncture, 3D printing allowed companies to collaborate like never before.
3D printing files moved freely across borders, were adapted overnight and were put into production almost instantly. Small businesses, corporations, governments and universities must work together to ensure these much-needed paradigm shifts become a lasting reality. Eighty-five percent of respondents to HP’s survey said collaboration across sectors to embrace new digital manufacturing technologies is critical for what’s to come.
Digital technology galvanized a manufacturing movement that COVID-19 pushed into high gear, and going forward, partnerships will be critical for more sustainable resource use, more equitable supply chains and more innovative products.
Implicit Sustainability and Scalability
Consumers are redefining how they engage with the world’s finite resource, and businesses must adapt quickly. Digital manufacturing ensures that sustainability and resiliency are key components of future-ready strategies. The same characteristics that make 3D printing a vehicle for agility and innovation also make it a scalable solution for simplifying supply chains and potentially prolonging the life of products, all in service of a more circular economy and a better future for everyone.
The manufacturing industry supports entire economies and ecosystems, and the insights revealed during his challenging time demand our attention and accountability. What COVID-19 highlighted aren’t simply suggestions on change management. They are foundational pillars in a fast-moving world—a world that will only continue to demand more creative solutions. If there is anything this year has taught us, it’s that digital manufacturing is the innovation of a lifetime. We’ve only just begun to discover and demonstrate what it can do.
About the HP Digital Manufacturing Report
The HP Digital Manufacturing Report is a global study by HP Inc. It was conducted by SME Media/Research across three continents and nine geographic areas including Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, the UK, and the U.S. Fieldwork was conducted from July 28 – August 11, 2020 across 2,175 3D printing and digital manufacturing decision makers.