3D Printing Will Disrupt Manufacturing as Adoption Rates Rise

3D printing is a “game changer” for manufacturing, but its real impact on supply chains will take years to play out, experts say.

According to the 2016 MHI Annual Industry Report, Accelerating change: how innovation is driving digital, always on supply chains, only 17 percent of nearly 900 supply chain professionals surveyed said they believe that 3D printing can be a competitive advantage, and only six percent consider it disruptive; 45 percent say it will have some impact.

However, adoption rates are expected to rise significantly. In the survey, conducted with Deloitte Consulting LLP, roughly half (48 percent) of respondents felt that 3D printing will be adopted in their supply chain over the next six to 10 years, compared with a 14 percent adoption rate today.

While the theme in this year’s annual report was building on supply chain innovation so that companies have “always on” supply chains to meet consumers’ increasing demands for faster delivery, 3D printing was not one of the highlighted trends because the executives surveyed did not perceive it to be at a high level of adoption at least for now, according to Thomas Boykin, specialist leader within Deloitte Consulting LP’s supply chain and manufacturing operations practice.

“We also concluded that 3D printing does have a role in creating ‘always on’ supply chains,” Boykin says. “Our experience shows that things move a whole lot faster than people think they will, especially relative to this technology. We’re predicting that in maybe half that time, the adoption level will be above 50 percent.”

3D printing is an additive process of building objects, layer upon layer, from 3D model data, and is quite different from subtractive manufacturing processes such as machining. 3D printing helps users create intricate designs that are difficult to make through traditional methods. It saves enormous amounts of time during the product design and development stages and eliminates scrap. 3D scanning is a fast and accurate method of transferring the physical measurements of an object to a computer as a digital file in an organized manner, resulting in what is called 3D scan data.

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