3D Printing: hype, hope or threat?

1Executive Summary

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has captured the attention of pundits and the public alike in recent years. This emerging technology, which allows end users to create material objects based on digital models, is in the early stages of adoption by businesses, schools and hobbyists, and reports of exciting new innovations and applications seem to appear weekly in the headlines.

Yet despite the hype, there is much still holding back this technology’s full potential. Conflicting standards, proprietary patents and lingering mechanical challenges continue to limit the practical applications for 3D printing, and cast a shadow over its future. While this is a source of frustration for the “makers” who embrace the technology and the entrepreneurs and investors who hope to mainstream it, the obstacles represent a window of opportunity for traditional manufacturing industries to reassess their long-term strategies and to find a place in tomorrow’s economic landscape.

This report will address 3D printing from a variety of angles:

  • The limits of the technology today, and how will it evolve in the future
  • What will drive adoption among consumers and enterprises
  • How 3D printing will change jobs and economies in the U.S. and around the world
  • How 3D printing will affect traditional industries such as healthcare, toys and apparel, and how companies in these sectors can best prepare

The twelve experts interviewed for this report represent a diverse array of interests and vantage points. Some are executives and entrepreneurs in the additive manufacturing industry. Others work in traditional industries that face potential disruption. Still others are researchers focusing on the law, economics and/or material sciences that underpin this emerging technology. While each point of view is different, they converge on a common vision of the future, and this vision suggests a set of six key recommendations for any company concerned about the future of 3D printing:

  • Embrace the makers
  • Reevaluate your supply chain
  • Give consumers the best of both worlds
  • Don’t just sell – service!
  • Protect (and grow) your assets
  • Don’t fight the future
Relevant Analyst
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Aram Sinnreich

Assistant Professor, Journalism & Media Studies Rutgers University

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