How High-Tech Firms Are Driving the (3D) Printing Revolution

Leave it to the high-tech industry to finally find the right use for 3D printers, a futurist technology that has fired imaginations for more than three decades even as it struggled to find its practical niche in commercial or consumer markets.

New data from UPS reveal that 70% of high-tech companies have at least some experience using 3D printers. Usage varies from designing new products to making parts that are not in mass production. These devices are not exactly mainstream yet, but successful manufacturers are finding the right applications.

According to the Fifth Annual UPS Change in the (Supply) Chain survey (CITC), many high-tech companies are actively exploring the use of 3D printers or beginning to understand their potential benefits. It's just a question of how individual companies will tailor their production strategies to take advantage of this fascinating tool.

Benefits include creating product prototypes or quickly generating packaging samples and mockups.Even a small improvement in packaging mockups can do wonders for a company's product development. Faster manufacturing and lower tooling costs also are added benefits.

Globally, 75% of survey respondents who said they use 3D printing are using it to design new products. Driven by China at 50%, the Asia Pacific Region is using 3D printing more for production purposes. This compares with 29% of respondents who use them that way in North America.

Ultimately, however, it's all about speed and efficiency in the high-tech business where there is practically no downtime between product generations. These companies bring technologies to market almost as fast as they can dream them up.

Pioneers on a new frontier in printing

Just this year, CloudDDM, an additive manufacturing company, opened a 3D printing facility on UPS's Supply Chains Solutions campus near the Worldport airline hub in Louisville, Kentucky. The facility features 100 3D printers, which run 24 hours a day, making parts for a number of industries and offering same-day shipping.

Progressive companies like CloudDDM are showing us the way forward. And just in time, too. According to a new report from BCC Research, the global market for 3D printing ispredicted to reach nearly $15.2 billion in 2019, with a compound annual growth rate of 32.2%.

The high-tech industry, in particular, is driving this growth. Our survey shows high-tech companies lead all sectors with almost 10% of companies in the segment actively using 3D printing technology. This is true of small, midsize and large high-tech companies.

The highest prevalence of 3D printers is in North America, where usage far outpaces that of companies in the Asia Pacific region.

As 3D printing becomes more cost effective – right now, some companies say the price is too high for their liking – the benefits to supply chains will be irresistible. Imagine dramatic redesigns of parts across industries, not just high-tech. In the long run, this would help establish flexible supply chains and ensure faster delivery to customers.

In the constant quest to get products to market more quickly, companies of all stripes will leverage 3D printing technology to support faster production development and expedite manufacturing practices.

In fact, it's already happening. And as usual, the high-tech industry is out front. In the not-too-distant future, we will look back at this moment as the dawn of a new era in printing.

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