Kevin Coleman

The era of disruption in the technology industry is upon us. While 2015 saw turbulent times in the 3D marketplace, the degree of adoption and eventually disruption will become much more significant as the market matures and moves toward 2020. One of the more interesting emerging disruptive technologies that is working its way through the typical ‘S’ curve of evolution is 3D printing. Although the 3D printing ‘S’ curve shows the strong projected growth, there will also be headwinds in general adoption. This has led many to look at this technology as a niche market play. Still others see 3D printing from a whole different perspective. In fact, some believe 3D printing technologies will be highly disruptive and that disruption will continue through 2025.

Forecasting Growth of 3D Printing

Recent analysis suggests that between now and 2020, 3D printing will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.37 percent. Some industry segments have an even more robust forecast. For example, the Automotive Manufacturing 3D Printing Market segment is projected to grow at 27 percent CAGR over the next few years.

All in all, the overall 3D printing market will grow to nearly $17.2 billion by 2020, according to management consultants at A.T. Kearney. Below is the analysis of 3D printing application/markets CAGR by industry segment in order of significance.

  1. Energy
  2. Jewelry
  3. Healthcare
  4. Automotive
  5. General
  6. Industrial
  7. Aerospace

Many believe that 3D printing technologies will create far more disruption than it is being credited with. Just consider the disruption created by limited production runs. Conventional manufacturing processes and techniques have a substantial cost (time and money) for tooling and set-up. But 3D printing eliminates that cost by moving from the CAD systems directly to the point of production — the 3D printer. Innovative thinkers are hard at work looking at all the interesting aspects of this exciting technology.

Davos 2016, in part, focused on the potential of 3D printing. One survey found that nearly 85 percent of those asked believe that the first printed car will be in full production by 2025. Another related figure that came out of Davos 2016 was that by 2020 nearly 22 percent of the world’s cars (290 million vehicles) will be connected to the Internet. Along similar lines, over 80 percent of those asked believe that 5 percent of consumer products will be produced by 3D printers by 2025. All of that adds up to one thing — digital disruption.

Impact on Business

With this technology, businesses are moving from mass production to mass personalization with the ability to customize their base products. Now, the DIY-ers and researchers alike are rushing to purchase a 3D printer for rapid prototyping capabilities.

Another interesting development is virtual inventory. The decrease in necessary on-hand inventory — since 3D printing allows for quick on-the-spot production — for common replacement parts as well as emergency spares can reduce the on-hand inventory value substantially.

Most people don’t think of the United States Postal Service and United Parcel Service as innovative or even as a manufacturer, but they are. Soon, they will implement their strategic approach to 3D printing. UPS announced they plan to begin installing 3D printers in some of their UPS Stores. Shortly after that announcement, word spread that the USPS had developed a 3D printing strategy that will install 3D printers in some of their delivery trucks. This would allow product manufacturers/suppliers to send their product designs to the delivery vehicles that were assigned to the area where the product was to be delivered.

Future Developments

The question that frequently arises when talking about emerging technologies is what’s next?  In this case 3D printing will continue to rapidly advance as the technology continues to integrate into the existing manufacturing sectors. In addition, 3D technologies will generate new types of manufacturing sectors.

Within the next several years, 4D printing will move from the research and development labs into actual production roles inside of organizations that are aggressive in their use of emerging technologies. If you aren’t familiar with 4D printing, it’s the printing of objects that are capable of self-assembly when exposed to air, water or heat due to a chemical reaction.

Technologies such as 3D and 4D printing, along with the Internet of Things, nano materials, wearable computing and others, are combining to create an era of technology disruption that will far exceed anything we have seen in the past. Although current 3D printing capabilities aren’t appropriate for every component or product, it does serve as an alternative to existing manufacturing processes and methods. 3D and 4D printing advancement must be on the radar for every manufacturer. While the markets and sales are very volatile at this point — which is not uncommon for emerging technology — they will continue to advance and get adopted.

These technologies are just two of the many technologies combining in this era of rapid technology advancement, which in turn leads to digital disruption. These emerging technologies are poised to create the most dramatic period of change in history. Stay tuned, it is about to get much more interesting.

About The Author: Kevin Coleman has been a trusted advisor, author and speaker to some of the world’s most progressive organizations including multiple Fortune 500 organizations as well as the United Nations, the United States Congress, the U.S. Strategic Command and more. With more than 20 years of success in the development and implementation of cutting-edge technology strategies and his tenure at Netscape as a chief strategist, he is able to provide insight on strategy, innovation, creativity and the high velocity technology era that is just around the corner.