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Norbert Sparrow

April 21, 2016

2 Min Read
3D printing comes of age in U.S. manufacturing, says PwC survey

Manufacturers in the United States have moved past “experimentation” and are now firmly committed to additive manufacturing, aka 3D printing (3DP). In fact, the technology has become “mainstreamed,” writes professional services firm PwC (New York, NY) in a report published this month on the role of 3D printing in the U.S. industrial manufacturing ecosystem. Be it in prototyping or end-product fabrication, “manufacturers of all stripes are building 3DP programs, and are likely to continue to expand those programs as advancements in 3D printers, software and printing materials . . . make adoption easier and more cost effective,” writes PwC, which produced the report in conjunction with the Manufacturing Institute (Washington, DC).

The report is based on a poll of 120 U.S. manufacturers conducted in October 2015, and it is the second time that PwC has analyzed the adoption of 3D printing by U.S. manufacturers. Some interesting observations emerge when one compares this survey with the one conducted in 2014.

Today, more than two-thirds of U.S. manufacturers are using 3D printing in some form. That is slightly up from 2014—71.1% versus 67%—but what is more revealing are the shifts in usage that have occurred during those two years. In particular, a higher percentage of manufacturers are applying the technology to prototyping and parts fabrication than they did two years ago (51% versus 35%), and the number of companies “experimenting” with the technology has dropped from 28.9% to 13.2%.

A larger percentage of companies anticipate the use of 3D printing to rise in high-volume production than in 2014. Two years ago, 38% of respondents expected 3D printing to find applications in high-volume manufacturing in the next three to five years; in the current survey, that number climbed to 52%. Most manufacturers continue to believe that 3D printing will be used primarily for low-volume, specialized products, writes PwC, although that number has slipped from 74% in 2014 to 67%.

Those are among the 3D-printing opportunities perceived by manufacturers, but there are also challenges. In both surveys, supply chain restructuring topped the list. Other areas “vulnerable to disruption,” according to manufacturers, include intellectual property concerns, a changed relationship with customers, a reduction in the need for logistics and transportation and—something that will have a familiar ring to the PlasticsToday community—finding appropriately trained personnel.

The latter litany of challenges are new to the survey—in 2014, the “stand-alone, number-one concern was supply chain disruption,” notes PwC—and that, as much as anything, attests to the mainstreaming of 3DP in manufacturing environments. If one of the perceived challenges is finding skilled workers, you know that the technology is crossing the “threshold from ‘advanced’ to ‘conventional,’ ” as PwC puts it.

The full survey and commentary, "3D printing comes of age in U.S. industrial manufacturing," can be downloaded free of charge at the PwC website.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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