The implications for 3D printing within the manufacturing industry are vast, but for the most part use of the technology has remained experimental.
However, a new report from PwC suggests additive manufacturing is ramping up within the big industrial players.
The report, 3D printing and the new shape of industrial manufacturing, revealed that 67 percent of manufacturers surveyed are currently implementing 3D printing either by experimenting with the technology or by already using it for prototypes or final products. One in four respondents said they plan to adopt the technology in some way in the future.
Manufacturers surveyed cited several benefits of using 3D printing for prototyping, such as accelerated time to product. In fact, prototyping remains the largest driver of 3D printer usage in the industry, with only 10 percent of manufacturers surveyed using 3D printing for both prototyping and the manufacturing of final parts.
In addition, the survey showed half of manufacturers said that it is likely or very likely that 3D printing will be used mostly for low-volume, highly specialized product prototyping over the next three to five years.
Almost half of the manufacturers said the top barrier to implementing 3D printing is the uncertainty of a 3D printed products' quality. In addition, manufacturers are concerned about how well printed parts or components can perform and hold up under strenuous prototype testing.
Regulation issues also abound, as manufacturers are waiting to see whether they will gain certificate or approval for use by regulated bodies.
The PwC report noted how manufacturers will need to re-train their existing workforce or draw in new talent with the skills to oversee the 3D-printing production. Thirty-seven percent of manufacturers attributed their "lack of current expertise in our company to fully exploit the technology" as another top barrier in implementing 3DP in their business.
Bob McCutcheon, PwC's US industrial products leader, said the application of 3D printing for rapid prototyping is nothing new for many manufacturers, but that now it seems as though usage is on the cusp of becoming mainstream:
"Companies need to understand the disruptions and the opportunities that it could create. There are core questions all manufacturers ought to be asking themselves if they're looking to implement a 3DP strategy that could potentially expand their business and make them more competitive in the marketplace.
However, as organizations wade into 3DP, either through implementing or at least through experimenting and/or assessing potential applications, the technology at present is still limited in the size, strength, and complexity of the products it can produce, even as it picks up steam as a powerful tool."