The best way to beat the market is to know it. Here at 3Degrees, we surveyed employees from more than fifty manufacturing companies and research institutions to gain a better understanding of where the industrial 3D printing market stands right now.
We began to catch a glimpse of what types of 3D printing technologies people are using, why some companies might be slower to adopt the new technology, and differences in adoption between small and large companies. Here are some of our results.
3D Printing Beyond Prototyping
Despite the common belief that 3D printing is only for rapid prototyping, companies are actually using 3D printing for end-use products right now. 50% of respondents who reported using 3D printing also reported using the technology to create end use products. And just because a company doesn’t use 3D printing doesn’t mean that they aren’t up to date with the latest trends: 44% of the companies we surveyed that don’t use 3D printing have at least considered using it to create a final product.
It's All About the Money
Companies view the biggest obstacle to adopting 3D printing to be cost and justifying the business case. This weakens the theory that companies are not adopting 3D printing simply because they are uninformed or confused about the technology’s capacity; surely, lack of knowledge is a factor, but cost seems to be driving these companies’ concerns.
Companies that do use 3D printing agree - cost is the major limiting factor for the technology. However, they also see challenges associate with 3D printing's status as an emerging technology: lack of standards and process control, and the need to develop the work force.
Disagreement on The Benefits
Companies without 3D printing capabilities think the greatest potential benefits of the technology would be the ability to customize parts and design more flexibly. They are less concerned with efficiency of manufacturing and reduction in the time to create parts.
This is in contrast with companies who already use 3D printing, who see the greatest benefits to be reduced time to create a product and on demand part construction.graph text here.
There are a few possible explanations for this difference in opinion:
- Companies already using 3D printing originally had high hopes for new design capabilities, but found actually designing parts optimized for 3D printing to be too difficult, given the current lack of precedents in most industries.
- Companies that have already adopted 3D printing have no need for customizing parts: they only want to create parts faster, while companies that have not adopted the technology are not sure yet how to use it to the best of its potential.
- Companies that have not adopted 3D printing only see a benefit in using it to customize products, but customization is too expensive to justify buying a machine. This explanation also fits with companies’ views on the limitations of 3D printing.
Living Up to the Tech's Potential
Small companies are failing to use their printers to their full capacity, while large companies are doing a bit better. Most large companies report that their printers are running between 60-80% of the time, while small companies most often report theirs are being used 20-40% of the time. No small companies surveyed reported using their printers even 60% of the time.
When asked if they are using 3D printing to the best of its potential, companies are even less optimistic – only 24% of those surveyed believe that they are doing so.
So, what's the takeaway from all this?
3D printing has a lot of hype built up around it, but many companies are benefitting from only one aspect of the technology: speed. Companies that value 3D printing’s potential for product customization and optimization do not seem to be willing to take a chance on this expensive technology.
Still, the market is changing rapidly. More and more extremely low cost desktop printers and even relatively affordable metal printers are being developed with greater resolutions and material options. Perhaps these new entrants will tip the scales for additive manufacturing.
And of course, there is always the likely possibility that companies are actually deterred more by their lack of knowledge than they might realize or want to admit. Companies without 3D printing may cite cost as their most prominent deterrent, but companies that do use it say otherwise – that work force development, lack of standards and lack of process control are all major limitations to their usage of 3D printing. All these qualms are signs of an underdeveloped market and a misunderstood technology, which no one seems quite ready to harness to its full potential.
If any data shows the necessity to better grasp the minutia of 3D printing, it is that nearly three quarters of companies that use 3D printing believe they are not using the technology to the best of its potential.
Let’s go and change that.