Computer and printer giant HP and consulting firm Deloitte on Thursday announced a joint effort to develop 3D printing systems to support large-scale production.
3D printing for decades helped companies develop prototypes, but executives from the two companies predicted that recent advances in the technology would prompt manufacturers to embrace it as a more economical alternative to injection molding.
"What we have the opportunity here to do is disrupt a $12 trillion [global] manufacturing industry," HP CEO Dion Weisler said at a press conference at the company's Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters.
HP introduced a 3D printer targeting the industrial sector last year, and Weisler noted that 3D printing is already more cost-effective than injection molding for a limited number of manufacturing goods.
He predicted that improved materials science, however, would make that number significantly larger; HP researchers are already working with different colors, textures and conductive materials in the company's labs.
In addition to offering a more cost-effective option than injection molding, officials noted that 3D printers could ease the design process, reduce waste and curb excessive inventory -- as well as limit the need for warehouse space to store that inventory.
The relatively small system, meanwhile, would allow companies to take advantage of increasingly digitized manufacturing to create more flexible factories and supply chains -- including capitalizing on increasing demand for customized goods.
"All of those things, when you combine them, enable manufacturing to happen anywhere in the world," Weisler said. "It democratizes manufacturing."
Officials said that although manufacturers are generally a risk-averse group, the advantages of 3D printing would become too big to ignore.
The partnership will begin in the U.S. before expanding abroad.
"I believe you'll see 3D printing at scale operate, sort of like a lot of the technologies we've seen over the last several years, on an exponential curve," said Deloitte supply chain principal Doug Gish. "So over the next three to five years, we really expect to see this take off."