Tracing the Path of 3D Printing towards Creating a new Industrial Reality


In the realm of 3D printing, we are in the midst of witnessing a transformation taking place. As the common saying states, there is a “time and place for everything”, and this stands true for 3D printing. The technology can be seen evolving on two unique fronts.

On one side, we have the traditional method where 3D printing is addressed as a service offered by bureaus to corporations requiring external proficiency. This strategy provides a practical solution for those who require rapid, cost-effective and unique part or prototype manufacturing. It serves as an initial entry point for the broader audience to experience this technology. On the opposite side, there exists a flourishing market for3D-printed objects that provide direct use to consumers. The focus here falls mainly on the repeated production of similar items in substantial volumes. The growth in this aspect is not only driven by sustainability requirements but also by technology advancements in 3D printing.

The intersection where prototyping and end-use parts designers share equal spotlight signifies a remarkable turning point in the utilization of this technology.

The traditional doubters always raised a recurring query: “Can 3D printing progress into a technology used for mass-scale manufacturing?” The response was distinct: “It’s relative.” For a broader acceptance, the cost advantages must decidedly tilt in its favor. However, to the surprise of many, this eventuality is in sight. By incorporating 3D printing’s design capabilities into industrial-scale manufacturing processes at an affordable price, we are observing the dawn of a new era in manufacturing.

Yet, amidst the optimism, a pragmatic acknowledgment surfaces — the unique needs and challenges of this repeat product market. The complexity of 3D-printed repeat parts is often higher compared to prototyping parts, and it comes with the daunting task of maintaining quality. At the same time, companies eyeing strategic scaling often grapple with a lack of knowledge and expertise in integrating 3D printing with existing production processes, potentially impeding its broader adoption for mass manufacturing.

This shift from the “why?” to the “how?” encapsulates the industry’s current state. Convincing companies of 3D printing’s benefits is yesterday’s challenge; today, the focus shifts to guiding them through the intricacies of successful adoption and scalability. Software emerges as a critical player, injecting intelligence into the process and enabling quality control at every step of the 3D printing journey. However, it demands concerted efforts and collaboration from software vendors and the broader 3D printing industry.

Drawing parallels to the early days of the computer industry in the 1980s, where Intel and Microsoft’s partnership propelled the computer industry to unprecedented heights, our industry must take a page from the PC playbook. Rather than competing, our industry needs to unify, define standards, and simplify the adoption process, making it cost-effective for serving the market with high-quality final parts. Forty years after the start of the PC revolution, we find ourselves standing on the precipice of the 3D printing revolution. If we – as collaborators, not as competitors – confront the complexities and acknowledge the need for standardization, I believe we can unlock 3D printing’s full potential as a formidable force in industrial manufacturing.

Brigitte de Vet, CEO of Materialise, will be participating at the upcoming Additive Manufacturing Strategies business summit in New York, February 6 to 8, 2024. De Vet will be giving the Session Keynote on “Software: Workflow and Design.”

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“Why did the 3D printer go to therapy? Because it had too many layers of unresolved issues!”

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