focused additive manufacturing capabilities in those
sectors. Portugal’s highly successful automotive
mold makers, for example, may need to incorporate
additive manufacturing into their suite of capabilities in order to meet customer expectations of fast
lead times and performance. But the possibilities for
another country may be different.
MYTH 3: Additive manufacturing will allow
producers to replace mass manufacturing with
mass customization. Many people have predicted
that additive manufacturing will result in a decisive
shift from mass manufacturing to mass customization. 18 But the likelihood that this will occur quickly
is slim. Wohlers Associates Inc., a leading additive
manufacturing consulting firm, estimates that in
the long term additive manufacturing might represent 5% of total manufacturing worldwide. 19
Moreover, there are forces other than additive manufacturing that will hasten mass customization.
The Spain-based fashion retailer Zara, for example,
is able to launch a new collection within weeks.
Rather than using additive manufacturing within
local markets, it achieves this by managing its
supply chain masterfully. 20 Manufacturers of IT
hardware, for their part, have relied on modulariza-tion to assemble bespoke products on demand, and
to do so close to their customers. 21
We see limits on the extent to which additive
manufacturing will be flexible manufacturing. In
theory, a good 3-D printer ought to be capable of
printing a wide range of designs. In practice — and
especially in applications critical to safety — we
may see regulations that control how 3-D printers
and additive manufacturing equipment in general
can be configured. This could mean that every time
a machine is reset to produce a part that’s different
from the one it made before, the system will have to
be rechecked. Depending on what this entails and
how involved the inspection is, it might turn out to
be less costly and safer to have different machines
dedicated to the production of different parts.
To be sure, additive manufacturing’s flexibility
can be, and is being, harnessed to produce products
where safety standards are less of an issue — for
example, wearable technologies and jewelry. Com-
panies will find the use of additive manufacturing
for such products increasingly appealing as pro-
duction speeds improve and costs decline. (See
“Should You Move Into Additive Manufacturing?”)
For example, last May, HP Inc. delivered its first
polymer additive manufacturing machine, which it
claimed was up to 10 times faster than previous
models and cost half as much. 22
In general, additive manufacturing holds great
promise, but in many areas the cart has gotten ahead
of the horse. Much of the technology is still under development. The history of comparable technologies
such as composite materials and high-performance
SHOULD YOU MOVE INTO ADDITIVE
If you’re evaluating 3-D printing technologies, here are some important
• Explore whether you could gain competitive advantage in your market by
adopting additive manufacturing. Are customers willing to pay more for such
products or for the added speed or flexibility?
• Evaluate the operating environment for your product. If it is subject to large or
cyclic loads, it may take longer to develop the expertise needed to produce
• Consider the required production volume and the number of machines (and
capital expense) needed to meet that volume. Consider also the ability of machine manufacturers to supply the necessary number of machines within a
reasonable time frame.
• Check if feedstocks (such as powders or wires) and 3-D printers are available
for the material your product is made of. If not, would it be economical to shift
to a different material?
• Consider the trade-offs between using an expensive material like titanium
alloy and the additional value created by a part with higher performance (for
instance, lower weight or better corrosion resistance).
• If you decide to produce the part using a current material for which feedstocks
and machines don’t exist, consider the trade-offs between the benefits of
doing so and the costs of getting regulatory approval for new materials and
processes in your industry.
• Consider safety-related limits placed by regulators on manufacturing flexibility.
For example, are there restrictions on producing multiple parts on the same
machine, or is it a requirement to design with large safety factors? In applications critical to safety, be aware that what seems technically feasible may not
be immediately acceptable to regulators. Start by developing and introducing
products where safety is less critical, or where the operating conditions are
• Identify the knowledge and skills you need to make the transition from basic
products to more complex ones. What is the potential for either tapping into
or establishing industry or public-private consortia for pre-competitive research collaborations?
• Consider how your analysis might change as the technology becomes
cheaper and faster. Pay attention to how your customers’ needs may change
in the future. To what extent do you need to start developing an additive manufacturing capability now in order to satisfy emerging customer appetites?
What are your competitors doing? Could additive manufacturing open the
door for new competitors to serve your customers in the future?