According to estimates by ING
While there are currently factors preventing the widespread usage of 3D printers, it is "slowly gaining a position in tool kits for industrial production." For example, McLaren-Honda has recently started to bring portable 3D printers to race tracks. Their printers are supplied by Stratasys
Current estimates worldwide put "the global market in products and services for additive manufacturing" at $6.1 billion in 2016, which is a 17.4% increase from the previous year. Roughly 60% of this spending was "linked to production applications, up from about half the year before." In contrast to the automobile industry, healthcare and aerospace are two sectors that have led in incorporating 3D printers. Printers are now commonly found in manufacturing hearing aids and dental devices. Furthermore, General Electric
3D printing is also spreading to the consumer goods sector. Adidas (ETR: ADS) plans on releasing 5,000 pairs of running shoes with a 3D printed midsole, with expansion plans for 2018. The insoles will initially be standardized, but with plans to "tailor the segment for individual runners" eventually.
Currently, drawbacks of 3D printing include the "high initial outlay for machines" and slowness compared to certain other manufacturing methods. Others include limitations in part quality, and material selection. As a result, 3D printing is currently utilized for products where "weight reduction is important" and which require a "relatively low number of highly customized parts" that cannot be manufactured with traditional techniques. Industries that require manufacturing "thousands of parts" will not be able to adopt 3D printing until the "speed issue is solved."
Unfortunately however, 3D printing remains very expensive. Renishaw (LON: RSW) is a UK-based supplier of high-tech measurement tools that "also builds 3D metal printing machines." However, manufacturers that pinpoint a good, sought-after part and make it in "the right numbers" find that using 3D printers instead of traditional means can be "very cost-effective." Hence, the question comes down to a matter of optimization.
The 3D printers themselves build up parts in layers of plastic or metal, whereas conventional means mill or cut away material. Hence, 3D printing is known as "additive manufacturing." Industry experts note that it "has the potential to be quicker and produce more complex and lightweight structures than traditional manufacturing methods."
In spite of the hype in recent years, the technology for 3D printing has actually existed for three decades. However, it has primarily been restricted to "prototyping, design and tooling," not mass production. Now, this is changing.
The outcome of this report is contingent upon advancements in high-speed mass production in 3D printing. Once this occurs, 3D printing would become far more advantageous than conventional methods of production, as printing requires less labor, and fewer importations of intermediate and final goods from low-wage countries. As a result, 3D printing would lead to less trade growth.
According to experts, at the current growth rate, half of all manufactured goods will be printed in 40 years. Furthermore, with a doubled investment in technology every five years, this outcome could be accelerated, and be realized as early as 2040.
The key industries investing in 3D printing are the automotive industry, industrial machinery, and consumer products. Efforts from these leading industries in world trade will effectively "take the lead in suppressing cross border trade." Furthermore, as the American need to import will decline, it will reduce its trade deficit with countries like Germany, Mexico and China.