Publication Date
Advisor(s): Jim Rice
Topic(s) Covered:
  • Manufacturing
  • Strategy

This project qualitatively estimates the potential impact of 3D printing on the United States metalworking industry. The adoption rate of 3D printing has been increasing in the last few years. On one side are businesses with long development and production lead times, competing in fast-paced industries. Moreover, some businesses are in the situation in which they need to reduce their supply chain complexity, to reduce costs and lead times. On the other side are businesses that are exploring the capabilities of Additive Manufacturing (AM) in their relationships with individual customers. A good example is the health care industry, where the need for customized implants like orthopedic replacement parts and tooth crowns has made this industry an early adopter.

Using data collected through site visits, an online survey sent to the sponsoring company’s main customers, as well as interviews with companies currently using the traditional material removal manufacturing process and companies basing a large part of their operation on 3D printing, we studied the trends, main points of attraction, and barriers to AM adoption.

Our analysis suggests that 3D printing will be mainly used for prototyping, at least in the next 3 to 5 years. While some companies, especially in the health care industry, also are using it for their daily operations, almost no survey respondent envisioned using 3DP for mass production. Currently, the main barriers to AM adoption are the high initial investment (a barrier that probably will be broken in the next years, as the adoption of the technology increases) and the limited variety of metals available.

The key benefits that business expect to derive from using 3DP are reduced costs and lead time. In today’s globally competitive market, being able to respond fast while keeping competitive prices could be a key differentiation factor, and may help adopters achieve that.

Finally, our study also indicates the size of the companies that are more likely to adopted 3DP. Small business (1 to 50 employees) are most likely to adopt, followed by very large business (with more than 1000 employees). The adoption horizon is almost evenly distributed among the next one to three years, the next 3 to five years and the next 5 to 10 years.