Companies Struggle to Get 3D Printing Right

Materialise survey finds challenges hamper AM adoption, but organizations see the value, committed to expanding usage over time.

Materialise survey finds challenges hamper AM adoption, but organizations see the value, committed to expanding usage over time.

While engineering organizations are convinced of the power of Additive Manufacturing (AM), many are still struggling to onboard the technology and scale up to volume production.

That’s the key takeaway from a recent survey produced by Materialise, a global leader in 3D printing solutions. Survey respondents were quick to recognize 3D printing as a leading manufacturing trend along with AI and robotics and digitalization.  Yet four out of five organizations surveyed said that challenges, including quality issues and a lack of production efficiency, are among the hurdles slowing down more widespread adoption.

They also point to a lack of 3D printing expertise among their workers. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed reported difficulties recruiting an expert workforce while 33% cited lack of experience and knowledge inside the company as a key barrier. Large-scale support for production AM encountered other, more technical hurdles, including what some respondents dubbed sub-par performance and speed for volume production (23%) along with difficulties integrating 3D printing with existing production processes (20%). Cost is another obstacle, related to expenses associated with running AM systems (25%) as well as purchasing equipment (25%).

“As companies struggle to onboard 3D printing and integrate the technology with existing production environments, the 3D printing industry will need to invest in training, the availability of more materials, ease of use, and cost reduction,” said Fried Vancraen, CEO of Materialise, in a press release.

Despite these obstacles, Materialise officials believe AM has reached a tipping point. The research shows that while AM is still tapped primarily for prototyping applications, a growing number of companies (47% of survey respondents) say they’re either creating or considering making end-use parts with AM technologies. Up until now, there’s been a lot of focus on acclimating companies to 3D printing’s perceived advantages, including production flexibility for on-demand spare parts and tooling, more freedom designing complex parts, support for customized manufacturing, and the ability to minimize supply chain risks, among other benefits. Going forward, Materialise believes the pendulum will shift as manufacturers orchestrate strategies and ramp up training to develop the knowledge and expertise to successfully adopt and scale AM to meet their specific business needs.

“Years-long supply chain disruptions have made companies reevaluate their offshore production strategies and prioritize local manufacturing closer to demand,” Vancraen said. “Digital manufacturing technologies like 3D printing can support these efforts by enabling more resilient supply chains and offering significant time and cost advantages.”

Even with the obstacles, the Materialise survey found companies fairly bullish on AM’s potential. Almost all survey respondents are anticipating increased usage of AM (94%) over the next 12 months, with nearly half (46%) planning to at least double their usage. Over the next five years, expectation is for more in-house 3D printing as opposed to relying on outside service bureaus—71% of respondents plan to expand their internal 3D printing capabilities while only 8% will depend on outsource partners as their primary strategy.

Most companies said they plan to leverage 3D printing in much the same way over the next five years, even as they increase and expand usage. Most expect to leverage the technology to create visual prototypes, personalized parts, and spare parts, the survey found.

Materialise is offering a tool for companies interested in calculating their 3D printing maturity. The self-assessment tool ranks a company’s maturity position in a nine-phase adoption journey.

Watch this video to learn about the four key trends Materialise sees driving AM adoption.

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About the Author

Beth Stackpole's avatar
Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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