3D Printing: technologies and opportunity

Jul 28, 2014

A new frontier that’s destined to change manufacturing firms’ production processes.

By Giancarlo Magnaghi


3D printing (also 3D‑P) is a production process for three-dimensional objects that starts with a digital model, which allows for the creation of complete objects or parts by way of a sequential stratification or layering process. With 3D‑P objects can be created using various materials: plastics, metals, ceramics, clay, glass, paper, chocolate and even living cells (bio printing). 3D printing features numerous available technologies, which differ according to the way in which they construct the layers that create the desired objects.

According to the major research and analysis firms (such as Gartner, Frost&Sullivan, McKinsey and Wohlers) 3D printing is one of the emergent technologies that will revolutionize our lives over the next 10–20 years. Wohlers predicts that the worldwide market for 3D printers and services, which in 2012 was worth 2 billion dollars, will exceed 10 billion dollars by 2021. McKinsey surmises that, beginning in 2025, 3D‑P will have a total economic impact of between 230 and 550 billion dollars per year. The market opportunities are remarkable both in the hobby/artisan sector (modeling, toys, accessories, jewelry, footwear, fashion, ceramics, sculpture, parts for restoration work and pastry shops), as well as in the production of unique, personalized objects (which can be produced directly in a ‘FabLab’ facility or through service centers), and in the industrial field (from the creation of prototypes to the production of working parts). In addition to rapid prototyping, the most promising markets include artisan production, the aerospace industry, precision mechanical parts as well as prosthesis and other medical devices, all of which require high levels of personalization and complexity.

Since it will no longer be necessary to send the product from a centrally located factory, a file with a digital plan for the product can be downloaded and manufactured near the end customer. This ability to build many products with 3D printers via additive manufacturing, allows for an increase in flexibility to meet the needs of the customer and improve delivery speeds, resulting in significant inventory reductions.

This production method can bring with it a profound change in the production and supply chain, modifying stakeholder roles and inspiring new business models. This change will offer new opportunities and challenges to Italian industry, allowing flexible and localized production.

(Extract from Giancarlo Magnaghi’s article, “La Stampa 3D: tecnologie, opportunità e problemi”, Office Automation, January-February 2014)

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