7 Questions on Additive Manufacturing in the US
Ian Wright posted on May 03, 2016 |

A recent survey of 120 US manufacturing professionals has found significant shifts in attitudes regarding 3D printing compared to just two years ago.

Among the most notable findings reported by PwC, which commissioned the study, are an increase in the use of 3D printing in prototyping and final products as well as an increase in the number of manufacturers expecting 3D printing to be used for high-volume production within the next three to five years.


1) How is 3D printing technology currently being applied?

(Image courtesy of PwC.)
(Image courtesy of PwC.)

Overall, 71.1 percent of respondents reported using 3D printing in some way, a slight gain from 67 percent in 2014. However, it’s worth noting that a higher percentage report using 3D printing for prototyping, final products or both. In addition, the number of respondents not applying the technology at all and the number experimenting to determine how to apply the technology have both dropped.


2) Will 3D printing become a method for mass production?

 (Image courtesy of PwC.)
(Image courtesy of PwC.)

On the whole, the number of manufacturers who believe that 3D printing will become a mass production technology within the next three to five years has increased by four percent.

On the other hand, this result comes from changes in the mid-range of the scale. Opinions at the extremes have shifted in the opposite direction, with fewer manufacturers believing that this possibility is very likely and more believing that it is very unlikely.


3) Will 3D printing be used more for after-market parts rather than newly developed products?

(Image courtesy of PwC.)
(Image courtesy of PwC.)

The results show a roughly even split between manufacturers who believe that 3D printing will be more useful for after-market parts and those who believe that it will be more useful for newly developed products.

On the whole, the latter half has increased from 42.5 percent in 2014 to 47.1 percent, which is suggestive of elevated optimism regarding 3D printing’s usefulness for newly developed products.  


4) Will 3D printing be used to replace obsolete parts?

 (Image courtesy of PwC.)
(Image courtesy of PwC.)

Compared to the previous question, the data here is much more clear-cut with 64 percent of manufacturers believing that 3D printing will be used to be replace obsolete parts. That being said, that expectation has also decreased from 2014, when it was at 70 percent.


5) Will 3D printing be adopted by more than half of all manufacturers?

(Image courtesy of PwC.)
(Image courtesy of PwC.)

This result is particularly interesting, given that 71.1 percent of respondents reported using 3D printing in some capacity, whether for prototyping, final products or just experimenting. Despite that response, only 56 percent of manufacturers believe that more than half of their peers will adopt 3D printing in the next three to five years.

There are several explanations for this result, including—as speculated in the report—that adopters of emerging technologies assume they are further ahead of the curve than their peers. A less-optimistic explanation is that adopters believe that the hurdles they have encountered with 3D printing will dissuade their peers from following in their footsteps.


6) What are the barriers to adopting 3D printing?

 (Image courtesy of PwC.)
(Image courtesy of PwC.)

The results from this question reveal a number of insights into the development of 3D printing technology over the last two years. For example, although uncertainty regarding the quality of 3D-printed parts remains a significant barrier to adoption, it has been replaced by cost as the most commonly cited barrier. Lack of expertise has seen a similar, though less dramatic, decline.

Increases in the number of respondents citing printer speed and the inability to print fully functional systems along with a decrease in the lack of expertise are indicative of the wider adoption of 3D printing compared to the previous survey.

It should be noted that respondents could select all the barriers that applied to them, which explains why the percent totals of all choices add up to more than 100.


7) If 3D printing were widely adopted, what will be the most disruptive effect on US manufacturing?

(Image courtesy of PwC.)
(Image courtesy of PwC.)

Although restructured supply chains and threats to intellectual property remain the most cited disruptive effects of 3D printing, they are also the most obvious. What’s interesting here is the increase in the less cited effects, including changes to relationships with customers and reduced transportation and logistical needs.

 

The 3D Printing Revolution

All of the questions regarding the future of 3D printing were framed in terms of the next three to five years. Do these results suggest that 3D printing will be a ubiquitous manufacturing technology by 2021?

Not necessarily.

Questions (2) – (5) used a Likert scale, where respondents were given one of five options between Very Likely and Very Unlikely. However, whereas a typical Likert scale involves five options between Strongly Agree and Strongly Disagree, the middle option is usually Neither Agree nor Disagree.

This option was denied to the respondents of the survey discussed above, which instead used Moderately Likely. By biasing the middle option toward the Likely end of the scale, the survey could very well be misrepresenting the opinions of the respondents.

To view the complete survey, click here.

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