Top Challenges to Widespread 3D Printing Adoption

You often hear about the benefits of 3D printing: design freedom, part consolidation, no tooling required, just-in-time inventory, etc. To today’s engineer, the list of technical advantages is endless. With all of these benefits you would think 3D printing would be as common as the internet by now, but that’s not the case. Companies are still struggling to find ways to incorporate the technology into their product development and manufacturing operations. According to the 2014 Wohlers Report, additive manufacturing is still less than 2% of the entire manufacturing market. So what challenges are holding additive manufacturing back from widespread adoption? We set out to find the answer through our recent industry survey of 700 serious, professional users.
3D printing

We wanted to uncover what professional users of 3D printing perceive as the top challenges their company faces in using AM now and will face in the future.

We asked the following questions:

  1. Which of the following challenges do you see your company facing for using additive manufacturing today?
  2. Which of the following challenges do you see your company facing for using additive manufacturing in the next three years?

We presented the biggest challenges we’ve heard over the years and throughout the industry in our pick list, including:

  • Equipment costs
  • Limited materials available
  • Post-processing requirements
  • Manufacturing costs
  • Lack of in-house additive manufacturing resources
  • Lack of expertise and/or training among workforce/employees
  • Limited repeatability (accuracy from build to build)
  • Lack of formal standards
  • Lack of proven documentation of additive manufacturing’s capabilities
  • Software development and capabilities
  • Longer production timelines
  • Limited recyclability
  • Risk of litigation/legal implication
  • Data storage requirements
  • Other
The results may or may not seem surprising.  As noted in figure C, two of the top four challenges are financially-based, indicating cost remains a notable barrier to implementation. But we were surprised that lack of software and legal implications didn’t rise to the top as they have been hot topics throughout the media in the last year.

3D printing

In order to overcome these challenges, we believe the industry must change the conversation from emphasizing additive manufacturing’s technical benefits to overall business value. Companies need to not only identify applications and parts to build with 3D printing, but look at their manufacturing strategy as a whole to see how the technology can enable innovation and add value to overall operations.  Instead of finding products that fit the technology, make the technology fit the product and business model.  Think about the business drivers, such as:

  • Economic low volume production
  • Cost effective customization
  • Improved environmental sustainability
  • Optimized supply chains
  • Manufacturing efficiency with more tools, jigs & fixtures
  • Reduced inventory of spare parts
  • Reduced lead times
  • Reduced raw material consumption

This change in thinking needs to happen at the leadership level. Implementing additive manufacturing for true business value affects multiple areas beyond just design and engineering. You need to consider productivity, training, supply chains, product optimization, environmental impact, R&D and overall manufacturing ROI.

Download our full survey report to see what steps companies are already taking to combat these challenges and prepare for implementing additive manufacturing in the future. If your company is a committed user of 3D printing, these findings will also provide assurance you are headed down a similar path of your peers and face many of the same challenges to adoption. If you’re not there yet, the results may serve as a wake-up call to take action because companies who don’t initiate investment soon will quickly be at a disadvantage.

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