Elon Musk tweeted on Oct 9, 2020: “Additive manufacturing of parts is still far too costly for cars, but can rapidly create tooling to accelerate pace of innovation. It’s already sensible for rocket engine parts. To the best of our knowledge, SpaceX is 2 or 3 years ahead of other companies in use of additive.”

And that gives us a very realistic glimpse into the future of 3D printing in manufacturing. It would be awfully presumptuous to predict the impacts of any technology that hasn’t been around long enough. 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) technology, undoubtedly has the potential to replace the traditional production methods in certain industries. But to what extent, is very hard to estimate. In the last decade or so, the 3D printing industry has been quite stable in its growth and expansion, and the technology has the potential to be an invaluable asset for production workflows. But even then, it is less than 1% of the global manufacturing market. The global market of 3D printing technology was valued at only $13.7 billion in 2020.

3D printing is a revolutionary technology that could alter centuries of progress made in the traditional ways of manufacturing. It is still considered to be expensive in certain industries and areas of production. However, companies can make huge profits even on expensive 3D printing projects, provided they can speed up or streamline the production. It all boils down to digital sustainability, combining dematerialization and mitigating supply chains.

Training and Generating More Skilled Workforce

The future of 3D printing technology in manufacturing will largely depend on the kind of expertise and skillsets that we have today, which urgently and continuously need to be upgraded to match the growing requirements. There is a shortage of sufficient education and training, which is one of the greatest challenges in the industry today. More so because the companies are primarily invested in the hardware technology, with not enough attention to upgrading the skills and expertise behind it. And that requires some serious commitments from the respective companies in training their technical workforce. Failing to do so will create a lot of obstacles in the way of technological advancements. Companies will face unprecedented technical challenges in the near future without sufficient knowledge and expertise in additive manufacturing, which may lead to failure in developing a business case for 3D printing.

Advanced technologies can only go so far unless there are skilled people to take them to the next level. There already are some studies, which indicate that the growth and expansion of additive manufacturing and 3D printing have slowed down in certain sectors and industries due to the shortage of proper training and skills that are crucial in understanding the process and technology of complex 3D printing equipment. However, it would be unfair to completely disregard the existing options for education, professional training, and degrees for additive manufacturing. Nottingham University, Penn State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Ohio State University, and Sheffield University are some of the top universities that offer 3D Printing & Additive Manufacturing degrees.

But based on the evidence provided by several studies and researches, the current options may prove to be insufficient in handling the shortage of qualified professionals in the future. The good news is that, with the help of public-private collaborations, more colleges and universities are coming forward with new programs and innovative ideas to train a skilled workforce for a brighter future for additive manufacturing technology.

Mass Production & Mass Customisation 

Consumers today want everything and they want it fast. And they want plenty of choices and options. A specific group of consumers wants products that are unique and customized to their preferences. And this approach towards consumerism is only going to get bigger and bolder in the future, and 3D printing technology can prove to be a great asset in terms of both rapid and mass production, and simultaneously creating a range of products that can be customized for a specific customer base. The greatest challenge and requirement in this process will be to save both time and money. There is no point in mass production of something that can’t be delivered to the consumer on time, while there is still the need or demand for it. Time is money.

Rapid manufacturing is still considered to be very ambitious by most experts. As in, a rapid prototyping device is needed for the direct manufacturing of finished goods. And that is where the future seems promising with the 3D printing technology which has the potential to combine rapid prototyping techniques with the high‐volume conventional methods of manufacturing. In the future, we are looking at mass-production and customized products along with tool-less production of finished goods. Some companies have already started experimenting with mass customization and 3D printing.

Additive manufacturing (AM) makes customization possible because it does not rely on expensive methods based on individual designs. In 3D printing, there are no additional costs for customizations, because there are no requirements for extra tools. The 3D printing machine itself is the only tool that is needed.

Global Market Size & Overview 

According to Statista Research Department, in 2020, the global market for 3D printing products and services was valued at 13 billion U.S. dollars, which is estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 26% by 2024. And based on the 2019 CAGR report by marketsandmarkets.com, the worldwide 3D printing market size is estimated to be 34.8 billion U.S. dollars by 2024.

Top five companies that are involved in 3D Printing Technology:

  1. Stratasys Ltd.
  2. 3D Systems Corporation
  3. ExOne Co.
  4. General Electric Company (GE Additive)
  5. Proto Labs Inc.

According to a USA-based survey of the market awareness of 3D printing or additive manufacturing, mentioned in prnewswire.com/, these three countries: Netherlands, Switzerland, and the USA ranked the highest. The Netherlands is considered to be the world leader because of being the home to most numbers of 3D printing companies. Switzerland, on the other hand, has a stronghold in the field of research and manufacturing of 3D printing.

Additive Manufacturing or 3D printing is not here to fully replace the traditional way of manufacturing, at least not in the near future. It is here to coexist and help the survival of the industries and sectors that rely on conventional methods in many ways, through merging’s and collaborations.