Projected impact: Disruptive
Timeframe: Already here

By Lucas Weiss and Stefan Schwillinsky, AustriaTech

3D printing as part of ‘additive manufacturing’ describes various processes applied in the manufacturing of products by fusing materials layer by layer. The origin of these processes date back to the 80s were additive manufacturing was used for rapid prototyping in specialised industrial applications and work settings.

Due to the enhanced ease of use and increased number of useable materials, 3D printing processes are introduced into many manufacturing settings. This opens up new ways in which products are designed, developed, manufactured and distributed. Opportunities are in the areas of product design and development, customization service and restructuring of supply chain for higher efficiency. As well as potential advantages in the areas of intricate product design with little additional costs, assembly certain pieces in a single run, enhanced flexibility and customization since each unit is built independently and cost-effective low volume production. Currently 3D printing is still mostly used for rapid prototyping, product customization, experimenting, product innovation and to a lesser extend for the creation of final parts due to relativlty low throughput and printing quality.

Additive manufacturing enables decentralised manufacturing of products and could therefore effect / reduce the length of transportation. Moreover, costs and time savings, improved responsiveness and flexibility, management of demand uncertainty and reduction of required inventory. This could lead to reduction of logistics costs and would influence the business models of logistics companies, which could turn warehouses into types of mini factories. At a later stage, probably distribution companies themselves would become factories. Therefore 3D printing may impact the location of plants and possible reshore effects by brining manufacturing back to western countries.

In 2013, the EU funded project Support Action for Standarisation in Additive Manufacturing (SASAM) delivered a roadmap for standardisation activities. 3D printing still brings lot of challenges, difficulties and open questions like the quality of the printed products; trade-off between printing speed and quality; legal barriers like patents, copyrights and trademarks; manufacturing of illegal objects; lack of expertise and accompanied education and learning to cover a wider range of the population.

Examples from industry

European Commission – Digital Transformation Monitor “The disruptive nature of 3D printing”, 2017