Our next report from the 3D Printing Industry Executive Survey examines the barriers to the broader adoption of additive manufacturing and how industry leaders are working on solutions.
Respondents were asked to rank the twelve pain points from most to least important. The survey then asked what each enterprise was doing to overcome the challenge.
Ranked from most to least important, our 2024 survey gave the following results:
#1 Machine & Process Reliability
#2 Quality of Parts
#3 Material Cost
#4 Scaling Difficulties
#5 Qualification & Certification
#6 Machine Cost
#7 Technology Limitations
#8 Expertise of Operators
#9 Post-processing Cost
#10 Limited Range of Material Options
#12 Pre-processing Cost
What are the pain points for customers using 3D printing?
These pain points highlight various challenges users encounter in the realm of 3D printing, ranked by their average scores from lesser to greater concerns. The scores indicate each issue’s perceived severity or importance, with lower scores representing more pressing concerns. Let’s review these points in detail:
Machine & Process Reliability (4.65 average): This concern focuses on the consistency and dependability of 3D printers and the printing process. High reliability is crucial for producing parts with predictable quality and minimizing downtime due to machine failures or process errors.
Quality of Parts (5.39 average): This reflects the precision, strength, and overall quality of the printed objects. High-quality parts are essential for applications in industries like aerospace, automotive, and medical devices, where the integrity of components is critical.
Material Cost (5.48 average): The expense of raw materials used in 3D printing affects the overall cost-effectiveness of the technology. Materials for high-end applications, such as specialized polymers or metals, can be particularly costly.
Scaling Difficulties (5.75 average): As businesses attempt to move from prototyping or small-scale production to larger volumes, they encounter challenges in scaling 3D printing processes efficiently. This can involve issues with production speed, cost, and maintaining quality.
Qualification & Certification (5.81 average): For industries with strict standards, such as aerospace and healthcare, qualifying and certifying 3D printed parts for use is a significant challenge. This process ensures parts meet industry-specific requirements and standards.
Machine Cost (6.08 average): The initial investment for 3D printing equipment, especially for high-quality or industrial-grade machines, can be substantial. This cost barrier can limit access to the technology for smaller businesses or individuals.
Technology Limitations (6.36 average): This encompasses the inherent restrictions of current 3D printing technologies, including print resolution, speed, and the ability to produce complex geometries or multi-material parts.
Expertise of Operators (6.98 average): Skilled personnel are required to operate, maintain, and troubleshoot 3D printers. A lack of trained operators can hinder the effective use of 3D printing technologies.
Post-processing Cost (7.09 average): Many 3D printed parts require significant post-processing, such as cleaning, curing, or machining, to achieve the desired finish or mechanical properties, adding to the total cost and time of production.
Limited Range of Material Options (7.47 average): Although the variety of materials available for 3D printing has been expanding, there are still limitations in the range of materials that can be used, affecting the applicability of 3D printing across different industries.
Sustainability (8.19 average): Concerns around the environmental impact of 3D printing, including energy consumption, waste production, and the lifecycle of printed materials, are increasingly important as the technology becomes more widespread.
Pre-processing Cost (8.74 average): This includes the costs associated with preparing for a print job, such as design, file preparation, and setup. High pre-processing costs can diminish the attractiveness of 3D printing for rapid prototyping or small production runs.
Addressing these pain points requires advancements in technology, materials science, and process optimization. Improvements in these areas could enhance the reliability, affordability, and scalability of 3D printing, making it more accessible and applicable across a broader range of industries.
What is the 3D printing industry doing to help users and where are opportunities to do more?
Machine & Process Reliability
To address the pain point of machine and process reliability in 3D printing, a multi-faceted approach is being employed by various stakeholders in the industry. Here’s a summary of the strategies and solutions being implemented:
Advanced Machine Design and Automation: Companies are focusing on developing 3D printers with large build platforms for industrial applications and incorporating semi-automated production solutions. Partnerships with automation specialists like Sinto Group enhance efficiency and facilitate the integration of 3D printing in industrial settings.
Investment in Technology Innovation: There is a push for increased investment in technology innovation to improve machine reliability and productization.
Cybersecurity and Process Visibility: Addressing cybersecurity concerns by building solutions that can monitor system behavior and flag misuse, improving process reliability.
In-Situ Inspection: Implementing in-situ inspection techniques to improve yield and process reliability.
Collaborative Efforts and EU Strategies: Industry associations are working to provide platforms for addressing issues and facilitating growth, with the hope that EU-funded strategies will tackle technical, regulatory, and awareness barriers.
Closed-Loop Control Systems: Utilizing advanced control systems to monitor and adjust printing parameters in real-time for consistent results.
Reliable Material Processing: Ensuring printers are compatible with a variety of materials and offering support for material preparation.
User Training and Support: Offering comprehensive training and support to ensure users are capable of operating machines effectively.
Postprocessing Technology Improvements: Investing in R&D to address surface and near-surface challenges, thereby improving part quality and repeatability.
AI and Education: Introducing AI to enhance print success rates, reduce costs, and bridge knowledge gaps among operators. Emphasizing the importance of education in understanding the technology, managing expectations, and optimizing use.
These strategies collectively aim to improve the reliability and efficiency of 3D printing processes, addressing key industry challenges and facilitating broader adoption of the technology in various sectors.
Quality of Parts
Gradual Competence Building: Collaborating with clients to initially focus on producing items with less stringent quality requirements. This approach helps in building understanding and competence, while also developing pathways for items that demand higher standards.
Emphasis on Quality and Repeatability: Prioritizing the production of high-quality parts from the onset, ensuring reliability and repeatability before scaling up production. Establishing partnerships and cooperations is crucial for delivering high-performance parts in complex environments.
To address the material cost pain point in 3D printing, several strategies and innovations are being implemented:
Collaboration between Material Suppliers and OEMs: Encouraging partnerships between material suppliers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to develop compatible materials and optimize parameters, potentially leading to more cost-effective production processes.
Adoption of Pellet-Based Systems: Moving towards pellet-based systems for polymers to reduce material costs and increase efficiency.
Use-Case Research: The Additive Manufacturing Green Trade Association (AMGTA) is conducting research to understand the full economic and environmental impacts of additive manufacturing, highlighting overlooked benefits that could justify the higher initial costs.
Scale vs. Cost Dilemma for Startups: Recognizing the challenges startups face in balancing scale and cost, with some adopting strategies such as releasing products at market price to gain market share and insights for global development.
Recycled Materials: Introducing materials such as recycled carbon fiber filled nylon at price parity with virgin materials to promote sustainability without additional cost to the consumer.
Innovative Material Processing: Overcoming specific challenges associated with printing difficult materials like tungsten and tungsten carbide by developing new processes that prevent common issues like deformation and cracks, thereby enabling the production of high-performance parts for industries like aerospace and medical.
Collectively, these approaches aim to reduce the cost of materials in 3D printing, making the technology more accessible and appealing across various industries. By focusing on collaboration, innovation, and sustainability, stakeholders are working towards overcoming one of the significant barriers to the widespread adoption of 3D printing.
Addressing the scaling difficulties in 3D printing involves a combination of technological innovation, strategic partnerships, and process improvements. Here’s how various entities are tackling these challenges:
Strategic Growth and Partnerships: A focus on growth through strategic collaborations, particularly in sectors like defense, to leverage innovative 3D printing technologies for industrial mass production.
Technological Innovation for Mass Production: Innovations in 3D printing technologies to provide flexibility and autonomy to industries, enabling the mass production of parts with 3D printing technology.
Investment in R&D: Significant investments in research and development are crucial for driving technological advancements and introducing new hardware and software solutions to the market. This approach is key for companies aiming to surprise the market with innovations that facilitate scaling.
Process Innovations: Solutions like enabling inkjet printing for additive manufacturing (AM) and focusing on reliable and sustainable processes are essential for scaling up production capabilities.
Efficient Post-Processing: Offering repeatable and scalable post-processing solutions, such as depowdering processes, helps customers overcome scaling challenges in the production cycle.
Utilizing Scrap Material: Companies like 6K Additive leverage a broad portfolio of materials, including scrap material, to meet specific application needs, allowing for scalable production as companies transition parts to serial production.
Productivity Upgrades: Providing productivity upgrades for existing systems enables customers to maximize their current investments and scale up their production capabilities more efficiently.
These strategies aim to address the scaling difficulties by focusing on innovation, strategic collaborations, efficient processes, and sustainability. By pursuing these avenues, companies aim to overcome the barriers to scaling production, making 3D printing a viable option for mass production across various industries.
Qualification & Certification
Addressing the qualification and certification challenges in 3D printing, especially in highly regulated industries like aerospace and defense, involves a multifaceted approach tailored to meet stringent standards and requirements. Here’s how various stakeholders are tackling these issues:
Establishment of Working Groups: Creation of industry-specific working groups to collectively address and streamline approval processes, aiming for unified qualification criteria that benefit all stakeholders rather than isolated efforts.
Collaboration with the Defense Industry: Companies primarily serving defense clients face stringent DoD qualification and certification requirements. Small businesses find limited leverage in influencing governmental procedures, emphasizing the need for collaborative and strategic approaches within the industry.
Innovation in Technology and Processes: Utilizing technologies such as hybrid additive casting which offers a cost-effective path to qualification compared to direct metal additive manufacturing, thanks to the potential for qualification by equivalence.
Material Traceability and Process Control: Ensuring material traceability, machine calibration, and detailed post-processing controls are crucial for compliance with the rigorous standards of regulated industries like aerospace.
Standardization Efforts: Working closely with certification bodies and specialized entities to drive standardization in additive manufacturing processes, simplifying qualification for a broader range of applications.
In Situ Inspection Technologies: Implementing in situ inspection methods to certify the build process in real-time, enhancing the reliability and acceptance of 3D printed parts.
Software Solutions for Process Acceleration: Development of advanced software solutions, such as Dyndrite LPBF Pro, designed to overcome traditional barriers in materials development, process optimization, and part qualification, facilitating a quicker transition from R&D to production.
Focus on Scalability and Speed: Recognizing the gap in scalability between additive manufacturing and traditional production methods, there’s a push for developing faster, more efficient 3D printing machines to meet large-volume production needs.
Collectively, these strategies aim to mitigate the challenges of qualification and certification in additive manufacturing, enabling more efficient, cost-effective, and widespread adoption of 3D printing technologies across critical sectors.
To address the machine cost pain point in 3D printing, several strategies and solutions are being employed:
International Qualification Systems: Implementing systems like the International Qualification Additive Manufacturing System (IAMQS) and expanding networks, particularly in Asia, to standardize qualifications and potentially reduce costs through broader acceptance and standardization.
Development and R&D Programs: Leveraging R&D programs to help customers overcome financing difficulties by improving the technology and reducing costs through innovation.
Design Expertise: Utilizing design expertise to optimize the manufacturing process, potentially leading to reduced need for expensive machinery or enabling more efficient use of existing machines.
Software Optimization: Employing software-based optimization for build-jobs and nesting to achieve higher utilization rates of 3D printers, effectively reducing the cost per part and improving the return on investment.
Power Consumption Efficiency: Investigating and developing machines that require lower power consumption to address sustainability concerns and overcome limitations in power supply at facilities, thereby reducing operational costs.
Targeting Right Applications: Focusing on applications with strong business cases to justify the high costs associated with additive manufacturing (AM), thereby improving the economic viability of high-cost machines.
Financing Solutions: Working with financing organizations to make the acquisition of 3D printing technology more accessible through various financial models and partnerships.
Lowering Overall Cost of Ownership: Striving to reduce the total cost of ownership of 3D printing technology through innovations that increase value delivery, alongside efforts to make investment cases more attractive in light of economic conditions such as high-interest rates.
These strategies highlight a multi-dimensional approach to mitigating the high costs associated with 3D printing machines, focusing on technological innovation, financial solutions, operational efficiency, and strategic application selection to enhance the accessibility and affordability of 3D printing technology.
To address technology limitations within the 3D printing industry, various strategies and solutions are being implemented:
Push-Pull Strategy for Innovation: Adopting a strategic approach that bridges the gap between research and industrial application. This involves positioning companies involved in the development of 3D printers, materials, and software at the intersection of research and industry to foster closer collaboration, driving innovation that is directly applicable to the sector.
Integration and Collaboration: Facilitating integration between different stakeholders within the 3D printing ecosystem, including researchers, machine manufacturers, material suppliers, and software developers. This collaborative approach aims to ensure a dynamic exchange of knowledge and expertise, which is crucial for overcoming existing technological limitations.
Advanced Software Solutions: Developing software that is specifically designed to address the limitations of traditional design tools. This includes making it easier, faster, and more efficient to design parts optimized for additive manufacturing, as well as integrating with partners to streamline customer workflows.
These solutions focus on leveraging collaboration, advanced software, and strategic innovation efforts to overcome technology limitations in 3D printing, ensuring the sector’s continuous growth and the development of more sophisticated, efficient, and applicable technologies.
Expertise of Operators
Addressing the expertise of operators in the 3D printing industry involves several strategies to mitigate the pain point of lacking skilled personnel:
Empowering New Talent: Encouraging individuals outside the additive manufacturing sector to become experts by providing them with innovative application ideas, training, and opportunities to master AM technology.
Enhancing Equipment Usability: Making 3D printing equipment more user-friendly and investing in comprehensive training programs to lower the barrier to entry for new operators.
Educational Programming and Partnerships: Collaborating with educational institutions and workforce development programs to inspire and educate the next generation of AM operators. This includes participation in industry trade shows.
Providing Training and Services: Offering targeted training and services to businesses, including training new employees from scratch due to the shortage of experienced candidates in the market.
Consulting and Education: Delivering consulting services and education to improve operator knowledge and capabilities in the AM field.
Data-Driven Operational Tools and Courses: Offering tools and courses through academies designed to help individuals manage and scale AM operations more effectively, making operations more data-driven.
These initiatives aim to increase the number of skilled operators in the 3D printing industry, ensuring that the workforce can keep pace with the technological advancements and demands of the sector.
To address the post-processing cost pain point in 3D printing, several strategies are being employed:
Automation of Post-Processing: Companies are exploring and developing automated solutions for post-processing to reduce labor costs and increase efficiency. This includes in-house development due to the current scarcity of innovative solutions on the market.
Platform Development for Material Efficiency: Innovations in platform technology that are compatible with a wide range of powder particles aim to attract material suppliers. This approach encourages the development of materials that could potentially lower post-processing costs.
Building Partnerships: Forming strategic partnerships to optimize process technologies and share the burden of development costs associated with post-processing solutions.
Cost-Effective Solutions: Providing the most cost-effective solutions by improving existing post-processing technologies or developing new methods that reduce time and resources required.
These approaches aim to mitigate the high costs associated with the post-processing stage of 3D printing, making the overall process more economically viable and efficient.
Limited Range of Material Options
To address the issue of a limited range of material options in 3D printing, several strategies are being pursued:
Conducting Process Experiments: By continuously exploring new materials and techniques, companies are working to expand the available range of options. This involves rigorous testing and experimentation to understand the capabilities and limitations of different materials in various printing processes.
Collaborations with Powder Suppliers: Establishing partnerships with powder suppliers is crucial for gaining access to a broader spectrum of material choices. These collaborations help in securing the latest advancements in materials technology, ensuring that customers have access to diverse and innovative solutions.
Research and Development: Investing in R&D to discover and develop new materials tailored for the 3D printing market. This includes both creating entirely new materials and adapting existing ones to be more suitable for additive manufacturing processes.
In-House Metal Powder Production: Developing solutions for low volume in-house production of metal powders. This allows for greater flexibility and customization in the printing process, as companies can tailor metal powders to specific requirements, enhancing compatibility with their printing environments.
Through these measures, companies are committed to overcoming the limitations posed by the current range of material options, aiming to provide customers with more versatile and tailored solutions.
To tackle the sustainability pain point in additive manufacturing, various innovative solutions and strategies are being implemented.
Production Management Solutions: Authentise is enhancing the sustainability of AM processes by providing a comprehensive production management solution. This system enables users to efficiently monitor, track, document, and control the entire AM process, from the final design phase to shipment and installation. By optimizing process efficiency and reducing waste, this approach contributes significantly to the maturation and sustainability of AM operations.
Focus on Recycled Materials: Fishy Filaments emphasizes sustainability by specializing in the use of recycled materials. The company underscores the importance of sustainability in its operations and customer relations, offering life cycle assessments and traceability to source. This commitment helps clients support their marketing and decision-making with credible, environmentally friendly data. As the market for recycled materials grows and regulations around environmental claims tighten, Fishy Filaments aims to provide even more robust marketing data and certifications to encourage the use of sustainable materials.
Research on Environmental and Economic Impacts: The Additive Manufacturing Green Trade Association (AMGTA) is undertaking use-case research to gain a deeper understanding of the environmental and economic impacts of additive manufacturing. This research aims to quantify and highlight the often-overlooked benefits of AM, such as reduced material waste and lower energy consumption compared to traditional manufacturing methods. By doing so, AMGTA seeks to promote a more sustainable approach to manufacturing that leverages the unique advantages of AM technologies.
These initiatives represent a multi-faceted approach to improving sustainability in the field of additive manufacturing. By focusing on efficient production management, the use of recycled materials, and comprehensive impact research, stakeholders in the AM sector are working towards reducing manufacturing processes’ environmental footprint and promoting sustainable growth within the industry.
Addressing the pre-processing cost pain point in additive manufacturing (AM) involves several strategies aimed at reducing time, resources, and expenses incurred before printing begins. Here are the suggested solutions:
Software Optimization: Develop and utilize advanced software tools that streamline the design-to-print workflow. This includes more efficient slicing algorithms, better support structure generation, and automated design optimization for AM. Software that can predict and mitigate potential issues during printing can significantly reduce the need for costly trial-and-error processes.
Standardization of Design Processes: Establishing standardized design processes and guidelines for AM can reduce the time and expertise required in the pre-processing phase. Creating a shared knowledge base and best practices can help designers and engineers quickly make informed decisions that align with AM capabilities.
Training and Education: Invest in training programs for designers and engineers to enhance their understanding of AM-specific design principles, such as design for additive manufacturing (DfAM). Equipping the workforce with the necessary skills to efficiently design for AM can reduce pre-processing time and costs.
Collaboration Tools: Implement collaborative platforms that allow for seamless communication and sharing of designs among team members, reducing iterations and enabling faster decision-making. These tools can help in aligning design objectives with manufacturing capabilities from the outset.
Material Database Development: Develop comprehensive material databases that provide detailed information on material properties and processing parameters. Access to such data can help in making more informed decisions during the design phase, minimizing the need for extensive material testing and experimentation.
Automated Design Validation Tools: Utilize software tools that automatically validate designs for manufacturability, identifying potential issues before the printing process begins. This can help in avoiding costly redesigns and wasted materials.
Integration of Simulation Tools: Incorporate simulation tools that predict the behavior of materials and designs under various conditions. This can help in optimizing designs for performance and manufacturability, reducing the need for physical prototypes.
Pre-fabricated Support Structures: Develop libraries of pre-fabricated support structures that can be easily adapted to new designs. This approach can save design time and reduce material use, as optimized supports are crucial for successful builds.
By implementing these strategies, companies can significantly reduce pre-processing costs associated with AM, making it a more viable option for a wide range of applications. These solutions focus on enhancing efficiency, reducing waste, and leveraging technology to streamline the design phase.
Conclusion: a rising tide raises all ships
This study underscores the importance of a holistic approach to addressing the pain points associated with 3D printing. Through technological advancements, strategic partnerships, and a focus on sustainability and efficiency, the industry can overcome current limitations and unlock the full potential of additive manufacturing. The collaborative efforts between machine manufacturers, material suppliers, researchers, and users play a pivotal role in driving innovation, reducing costs, and enhancing the quality and reliability of 3D printed products. As the industry continues to evolve, these concerted efforts are essential for broadening the adoption and application of 3D printing technology, making it more accessible and appealing across a diverse range of industries.
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