Regular readers know that while we're very excited about 3-D printing, we continually warn not to get caught up in the surrounding hype.
Harvard Business Review's The 3-D Printing Revolution (subscription may be required) not only is one of the best articles I've seen on this topic, it also explains the advantages and uses of 3D printing without over hyping the technology.
Industrial 3-D printing is at a tipping point, about to go mainstream in a big way. Most executives and many engineers don’t realize it, but this technology has moved well beyond prototyping, rapid tooling, trinkets, and toys. “Additive manufacturing” is creating durable and safe products for sale to real customers in moderate to large quantities.
The article covers the pluses of 3D printing - flexibility and production simplicity - as well as its current main limitation, which is a lack of economies of scale.
The article also nicely positions where 3D Printing is today, and the impact it will likely have in the future. Key quote:
Here’s what we can confidently expect: Within the next five years we will have fully automated, high-speed, large-quantity additive manufacturing systems that are economical even for standardized parts. Owing to the flexibility of those systems, customization or fragmentation in many product categories will then take off, further reducing conventional mass production’s market share.
The report chart below, which shows the growth of 3D printing patents, nicely illustrates the rapid growth of this industry.
There's been little doubt for years that 3D printing is a game changing technology. The question has been when will it finally enter mainstream use for industrial applications.
The answer is soon.
We cover 3D printing extensively in our small manufacturing section.