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

At the Gartner Symposium, 3D printing was pitched as a strategic technology tech leaders need to think through for the risks and big rewards.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

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.

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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.

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