3D Printing Goes Prime Time

By Samuel Greengard

During the last few weeks, three news stories should have captured your attention. First, a company called Local Motors made history by printing a functioning car within 44 hours. Then spacecraft designer and manufacturer SpaceX announced that it was sending a 3D printer into outer space for the first time. Finally, UPS announced that it is installing 3D printers in 100 locations in the U.S.

It’s safe to say that 3D printing is ready for prime time. In fact, according to a new report from Portland, Ore.-based Allied Market Research, the market for 3D printing will hit $8.6 billion by 2020. Demand for 3D printers is accelerating across a wide swath of industries, including medical, automotive, aerospace, defense, and food and beverage. About 22 percent of the activity resides with consumer product manufacturing, the Allied Market Research report notes.

The upshot? CIOs must start tracking 3D printing in earnest. Prices for the technology are dropping while the capabilities are expanding. What was once a novelty—and used primarily for gimmicks and rapid prototyping—is quickly emerging as a mainstream manufacturing tool, and one that promises to redefine innovation, reinvent product cycles and disrupt supply chains.

At this point, CIOs must begin to dialog with other business executives—particularly those overseeing R&D, operations and manufacturing—to find ways to use 3D printing. It can speed innovation cycles, reduce product development time, and allow an organization to think and operate in a far more strategic manner. Along the way, 3D printing alters the dynamics revolving around intellectual property, crowdsourcing methods, and open source design and software.

It’s not inconceivable that within a few years, businesses will not only produce new products using 3D printing, they will print replacement parts for machines, office spaces and more. “The factors driving 3D printing market are high degree of accuracy, efficient use of raw materials, ability to build customized products, simultaneous use of multiple materials for printing, efficient use of production time and financials, and competency over traditional techniques,” Allied Market Research points out.

Clearly, we’re entering an extremely disruptive period that demands different thinking—along with an entirely different approach to business. Moreover, the role of the CIO is changing as a growing array of consumer and enterprise technologies intersect, including mobility, cloud computing, big data analytics, the Internet of Things and, yes, 3D printing.

The future has arrived. Print that!

About the Author

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight blog post, “Reducing Business Costs with Wellness Programs,” click here.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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