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Top 10 Tech Trends: 3D Printing

Topics: Manufacturing, Distribution, ERP, technology, trends, survey, drones, facial recognition, virtual reality, tablets, wearables

Posted on Sep 21, 2017 9:08:22 AM by Nick Mears

Trend #5 - 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing

3D printing - ThinkstockPhotos-466831477.jpg

Macola recently commissioned a survey of manufacturing and distribution professionals in the US regarding the factors that are driving business and technology strategies (Manufacturing & Wholesale Distribution: 2017 Business & Technology Trend Reports).

One of our first questions, “what is the biggest external driver of change?”, allowed for these answers: pending regulatory changes on trade; rising e-commerce usage; mergers and acquisitions; advances in technology; and infrastructure improvements. The choice most selected was decisive—over 70% chose emerging tech and IT innovations.

Clearly, emerging technology and IT innovations are significantly disrupting business models, and survey respondents appear to be embracing the “fourth industrial revolution,” finding value in 3D printing, IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), wearables, virtual reality and other tools to their operations.

But with all these new technologies, it can be hard to distinguish between the trends that may provide value (either now or soon) from the trends that are merely buzz. To help with this, we asked these same survey participants what technological innovations they are currently utilizing in their organization, and after compiling the results created a top ten list. 

Our last blog post covered trends #10-6, and can be found here: Survey Says: Top 10 Tech Trends (#10-6)But in this post, we look at the 5th trend: 3D printing.  



Our survey shows that 59% of manufacturers and 44% of distributors currently use 3D printing.


What’s most exciting about 3D printing is that of those manufacturers who are not currently using 3D printing, 78% plan to use it in the future, while 37% of distributors are very interested in 3D printing.

It should be noted that for manufacturers, 3D printing is the highest of all the “plan to use” trending technologies.


3d printing trend infographic.png 

Let’s start off with the technical description of 3D printing:

“3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process, an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object. 3D printing is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing which is cutting out / hollowing out a piece of metal or plastic with for instance a milling machine. 3D printing enables you to produce complex (functional) shapes using less material than traditional manufacturing methods.”

What is 3D Printing, 3DPRINTING.COM

3D printing, unlike subtractive manufacturing (removing material, such as CNC machined parts) comes with distinct benefits, such as the reduction of cycle times, waste and stock times as well as the ability to quickly and more affordably create modified or prototype parts—but more on all of this later.


It used to be that 3D printing was only for prototyping—but not anymore. The ability to quickly create custom parts is the reason many industries are quickly leveraging additive manufacturing. For example, automotive and aerospace industries were the first to leverage 3D printing, while additive manufacturing is rapidly growing in medical, consumer products/electronics and even the tooling industries:

Within these industries, additive manufacturing has already become more than a prototyping method. The medical industry uses it to make customized prosthetics and implants, for example; makers of consumer products, who want to pack more functionality into less space, are beginning to embed electronics; and the aerospace industry uses it to print lightweight, complex parts such as fuel nozzles.”

How 3D Printing Can Transform Your Business, Forbes


Currently, spending on 3D printing is projected to grow to nearly $29 billion by 2020. IDC believes that discrete manufacturing will account for over two-thirds of all 3D printing spending by 2020 as well:

"The use cases that will generate the largest revenues for 3D printing in 2016 are Automotive Design – Rapid Prot

otype Printing (more than $3.9 billion) and Aerospace and Defense Parts Printing (nearly $2.4 billion). Tools and Component Printing will also emerge as a significant market in 2016. By 2020, Dental Printing will become a strong challenger for the number 3 position in terms of worldwide revenues while Medical Implant & Device Printing, Product Creation and Prototype Printing, and Prosthetics Printing will each generate worldwide revenues of more than $1 billion.”

Worldwide Spending on 3D Printing Forecast to Grow at a Compound Annual Rate of 22.3% to Nearly $29 Billion in 2020, According to IDC's 3D Printing Spending Guide, IDC 




According to Forbes, some of the most exciting advantages of 3D printing is that it doesn’t require the logistics, warehouses or storage costs that usually comes with other forms of manufacturing. In fact, Forbes lists five key benefits that 3D printing offers:

  1. Efficient use of resources
    Additive manufacturing requires fewer processing steps, little assembly, and less energy. It also minimizes waste.

  2. Small-lot production
    Additive manufacturing eliminates the need to produce parts or products in large quantities. As a result, there is no inventory or stock cost.

  3. Rapid manufacturing
    The technology allows makers to go directly from design to manufacturing. It dramatically reduces cycle times since it doesn’t require a tooling process.

  4. Agile manufacturing
    Additive technology can create spare parts on demand and thus simplifies supply chains and logistics.

  5. Reverse engineering
    Parts for legacy systems can be easily replaced with the help of a scanner and a 3D printer or other additive manufacturing technology.

How 3D Printing Can Transform Your Business, Forbes


For the most part, 3D printing still is more expensive when compared to conventional manufacturing. But there are cases when 3D printing is more affordable. For example, mass customization industries and highly customized products can actually be a more affordable 3D printing alternative when compared to conventional manufacturing.




Case Study #1: Daimler AG for Replacement and Special Order Parts

Daimler AG’s bus division had a problem. Customer requests for replacement parts were time intensive and costly. Special parts, low volume parts, and modified parts were even more expensive. To counter this, Daimler AG has begun to 3D print parts, and has successfully printed over 780 components to date for customers, and are looking to start 3D printing over 150 other replacement parts. Daimler AG has found 3D printing to be a quick, flexible, affordable and environmentally sound way to manufacture and provide replacement parts to customers—all without sacrificing quality. 

Daimler AG states that 3D printing allows them to sidestep the costs associated with tool production, storage and surplus materials that would generally need to be disposed of. With 3D printing, there is minimal storage as well as very little waste.

“This proves particularly economical in small series involving batches sizes from 1 to 50 units. The entire process, from the initial idea through design, costing and production to delivery, takes only a matter of days….The 3D technology avoids bottlenecks and surplus production. This ensures that special parts are produced and replacement parts are supplied in precisely the required quantities. As the parts can be delivered quickly and without requiring large-scale stockpiling, no stocks require to be maintained.”

Daimler Buses fulfilling customers' individual wishes for the first time with 3D printing technology, Daimler




Like Daimler AG, Ford is currently not mass producing with additive manufacturing--yet. But it should be known that Ford has over five additive factories around the world, which currently provide over 250,000 components per year.

Ford doesn’t use 3D printing for parts that you would see on a new vehicle right now, but almost every part that goes into a new vehicle—from tires to the roof—has been printed on 3D printers during the design and testing process. Ford has found that additive manufacturing has significantly reduced the costs and time associated with the design stage:

“It’s really enabling engineers to do design iterations quickly. You can get a part in hours or days instead of weeks or months with traditional methods...Today, designers are submitting requests for having multiple versions of a part built at the same time. They can do their testing in parallel... ‘If there’s an idea to take a little more time off the process by making a small change to the fixture, there’s no 6-week wait time from the tool shop or a $30,000 price tag.”

Additive manufacturing technologies in high-volume automotive production, Today’s Motor Vehicles


One Final Takeaway

It should be noted that our survey also shows that over 90% of manufacturers and distributors currently use ERP systems and have found them extremely valuable across operations. Also, nearly every respondent listed the benefits of ERP, from document management, automation of workflows, business intelligence, process management, CRM, accessibility to real-time data. This comes as little surprise to us, as we have been getting this type of positive feedback regarding the benefits of Macola 10

But outside ERP, emerging technology and IT innovations are leading American manufacturers and distributors into a time of transformation--and enormous opportunity. Be sure take advantage of these conditions by capitalizing on business opportunity and growth. 


Next Post: Technology Trends #4...

Please check back as our next post will cover the 4th technology trend: Industrial Robotic Technology. But in the meantime, please learn more about the survey in the Manufacturing & Wholesale Distribution 2017 Business & Technology Trend Reports:

Distributors Trend eBook_7.17.17.jpg

Download the Manufacturing & Technology Trend Reports


Learn about all emerging technologies in our newest infographic, Emerging Technology in the Supply Chain: Manufacturers and Wholesale Distributors Weigh In:

Trend Survey infograhpic_7.17.17.jpg

Download the Emerging Tech Trends Infographic


Watch the complete on-demand webinar, 2017 Business and Technology Trends Survey Results:

Webinar -Industry Trends Survey_7.17.17.jpg

View the On-Demand Trends Webinar

The ERP Blog covers the impact of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), business software and accounting solutions on organizations in the manufacturing and distribution industries.

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