3D printing: Supply chain gains but IP, bioprinting risks loom

3D printing: Supply chain gains but IP, bioprinting risks loom

Summary: At the Gartner Symposium, 3D printing was pitched as a strategic technology tech leaders need to think through for the risks and big rewards.


ORLANDO — 3D printers may not be completely mainstream, but they are being put on the enterprise radar as a way to improve the supply chain and innovate, but there are a few gotchas on the horizon.

At the Gartner Symposium/ITXpo, the talks about the 3D printing possibilities are hard to miss. In Gartner's strategic predictions, 3D printers are being put in front of chief information officers as something to think about.

Certainly, 3D printing has possibilities. For instance, companies can support new and mature products with on-demand parts. Scaling would become more customized and efficient. NASA already sees 3D printing as a potential cost saver.

However, there are a few risks worth noting. Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer outlined how technology leaders need to think through 3D printing policy and ponder ways to protect intellectual property.

More: 3D printing in Singapore needs clearer roadmap, value-add focus | NASA test fires 3D printed rocket engine component | NASA's 3-D printing breakthrough - it's all rocket science (images) | eBay Exact for iOS launches for 3D-printed goods | 3D printing goes mainstream with Stratasys' $403m MakerBot buy | Amazon launches online store for 3D printers | Cube 3D Printer goes retail at Staples for $1,299

Plummer's talk was focused on strategic ideas that could impact CIOs such as digital business, crowdsourcing and how automation and smart machines could cause labor unrest, but the 3D printing issues stuck out largely because they could sneak up on you.

The big takeaway is that 3D printing affects large-scale manufacturing as well as individuals. One of the largest individual effects could be in health care. Plummer noted that by 2016, 3D printing of tissues and organs will advance. Those advances will lead to government intervention.

3d printer bioprinting

Plummer argued that enterprises need to think through the legal aspects of bioprinting as well as intellectual property.

And speaking of intellectual property, 3D printing is going to create more piracy headaches across industries. The bottom line: CIOs and CEOs are going to have to validate that products are genuine. After all, anyone can print a fake now.

Plummer noted that the U.S. has more than $300 billion in IP stolen every year and counterfeiting is inevitable. Asian use of copyrighted Western goods is expected to surge in 2015 and an industry like the global automotive aftermarket will see about $15 billion in 3D theft in 2016.

Amid budget planning, application modernization, cloud computing and the other CIO headaches, it's unlikely that 3D printing will be thought through all that much. But a few brain cycles may be warranted on the topic.

Topics: Printers, Emerging Tech, Hardware

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  • Banning Bio-printing would be wrong

    Admittedly, it becomes possible to print an exact duplicate of a human body which could be used to fake a person's death (I can think of at least 3 different science fiction stories that use that as a plot device.) But the number of people it could save, or improve their lives is in the billions.
    Pricing should be market based. After all, if anyone can figure out how to print organs, then all you really need is someone to surgically install them for you.
    • Laparoscopically?

      Unless you could miniaturize and print them in place...
  • 3D printing will illuminate the failings of a flawed IP system...

    What is the purpose of IP, refund manufacturing costs? Pay for development? Or giving a business a means to monopolize a market? My concerns over 3D printing vs IP arguments are these...objects printed in 3d are and always will be more expansive as a single run print than mass produced. If stealing intellectual property is a concern, then they are asking more than the device costs to print, more than the effort of manufacturing, and more than the luxury of a clean version over the DIY version is worth to consumers. In short, over-charging and using IP to gouge customers and circumvent healthy competition...If this is a risk, then companies are already asking too much.
  • 3-D printing is here to stay.

    The supposed legal issues are honestly only relevant to the frightened big corporations who are going to lose control over their previously captive customers. The reality is, people have been able to make their own versions of most commercial products forever, if they had the proper skills, the time, and the equipment. Even 3-D printers have been around for 30 years, despite the recent media fascination with it as "something new." The biggest change is that people can now build or buy their own 3-D printers and use them however they desire in the privacy of their own homes. I personally own two 3-D printers. One, I assembled. The other was already assembled. The technology is finally more accessible and affordable for home use and that frightens the conglomerates who rely on artificially manufactured scarcity which has allowed them to rip off customers for centuries. Customization and manufacturing by the customer is going to be the norm going forward. If you try to limit this capability, as a company, you'll be left in the dust by those companies who cater to this new set of customer desires.

    The proliferation and advancement of 3-D printing is going to be one of the biggest boons to the creativity of our society and will concurrently be good for the environment. The big corporations who make vast profits on simple plastic household objects will simply need to alter their business models if they want to survive. They'll have to sell excellent, modifiable, and easily 3-D printable designs. They could also sell high quality raw materials rather than the actual objects. The upshot is that the playing field will be leveled, though, which big companies hate. A clever designer sitting at home could actually come up with and sell better designs than a big corporation.

    In my mind, the transportation and warehousing industries will be hit the hardest by 3-D printing, but the shift away from transporting vast quantities of bubble-wrapped common household goods will benefit the environment immensely. I don't think we've yet scratched the surface of the changes which are coming as a result of 3-D printing. I, for one, am pretty excited to see it.
    • Nothing but a toy

      3 D printers are and always will be a novelty. You really don't think this industry hasn't learned from the Recording Ind? It's going to end up totally regulated and expensive. The laws of supply and demand say that if it does get a foothold, the price of the printer and/or the raw material will go sky high. Don't expect the Asians to help out with cheaper products cause they' ll just be cutting their own throats. And then there's the human factor. How many people will actually want to use one. Sorry, I just don't see it happening.
      • "How many people will actually want to use one...."

        This statement sounds too much like Hewlitt Packard's infamous doubting that many people would want a computer in their homes. Not everyone is going to want (or could afford) one, but I can see this as being part of a viable business opportunity, rather like photo copy centers. It will probably require some kind of copyright legislation/agreement so that designers and consumers can be assured that designs are used legally and royalties paid, but we've been able to do this with other intellectual properties, and with computerization this should be able to be made a no-brainer. When an item is scanned in, the computer should be able to compare its specs to other royalty-protected items. If there's a royalty owed, the price can be tacked onto the overall cost of production. Totally doable.
      • Even better...

        If a 3D printer could insert small electronic components and connect them using conductive polymer, think how much easier it would be to build robots and other gadgets. No additional board fabrication needed.
    • 3D Printing is here to stay

      This was a very informative reply, Bill, almost easier to understand than the original article. My husband makes a very labor intensive concert flute in sterling silver, so we're not worried that anyone's going to be able to make a cheap knockoff that will fool anyone, but we'd LOVE to be able to produce our own inexpensive knockoffs for the student market. One business opportunity you didn't mention was the possibility for 3D consultants. Right now, we don't even know who to ask about this technology; what is possible and what is feasible. When I went looking online, I realized that I don't even know the questions to ask. I'd love to see an article comparing and contrasting the different machines out there.
    • Your take, sir

      I've seen your posts before- you are levelheaded and well informed. Question: how close are we to 3D printers which can print 3D printers? I'm not talking about toys, but about near industrial quality which can, on a limited scale, print something that your neighbor, or mine, would pay $ for.

      That, in my mind, is the tipping point. Once it is past, 3D printing will be impossible to regulate.

      Your take?
  • 3D Printing is Coming.We the people have to get Ready NOW!

    Just like the N-Bomb, the Internet, 3D printing comes and no one can stop it. It will bring great strides forward, ethical questions and legal issues.

    All Nations have to wake up NOW set General Legal and Ethical Rules or this will be the next Cold War between Big Corporations that Mass produce and the Individual.

    It will not stop at reproducing the Ultimate Solider or Perfect Person.

    Then it will be to late and the Government will take over and it will all be over.

    Lets get it right this time and set up a International Scientific/Technology Group that sets up General Standards and Guidelines before the Government does and takes it over.
  • every new technology is a toy until it isn't

    Our current economy involves raw materials, intermediat products, and finishished products crisscrossing the globe to finally reach their ultimate consumer.
    A significant part of this travel could be eliminated if some components could be produced on demand locally.
    With that incentive things that can't be printed could be made more generic an configurable.
    This technology could be an important part of a world where goods travel less.
  • Where can I get one?

    I'd like one that's large enough to replicate a tube which is 13" long and up to 2" wide. Where can I order one, try one or otherwise go to find out if our particular project is feasible?

    Jackie Britton Lopatin
    Lopatin Flute Company
    Asheville, NC
    • Try here to start..

      Try here to start, Dreamer56. Solidconcepts is actually a "service bureau" that can produce in several types of metal. but not cheap. Also try reprap.org to see plans for one you can make at home.

      Good Luck
  • Incredible Potential but we need to be careful

    My first encounter w/3D printing was at a HS Tech Lab I'd recently renovated. I was looking around the lab and asked the instructor what the machine was. After talking about it I brought him a part from an old band saw which was inoperable and asked if he could print a replacement. That 40 year old band saw is now running like new. The interesting part is the instructor needed help in the process which he promptly got from one of his 10th grade students!