HP hopes its 3D-printing technology will help overhaul the global manufacturing sector in coming years under a newly announced agreement with Deloitte.
The partnership, unveiled Thursday by the Silicon Valley tech stalwart and global consulting giant, aims to implement 3D printers that can effectively replace injection molding in large-scale industrial processes.
3D printing for decades helped companies develop new prototypes, but officials from HP and Deloitte suggested that recent advances in the technology would prompt manufacturers to embrace it for their production operations — perhaps in as little as five years' time.
"What we have the opportunity here to do is disrupt a $12 trillion [global] manufacturing industry," HP President and CEO Dion Weisler said during 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 new developments in 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 growing economic advantages compared to injection molding, company executives suggested that 3D printers would save costs in numerous other areas, from the design process to reduced waste to the elimination of excess inventory and the need for related warehouse space.
The increasingly digital capabilities of modern factories and equipment, meanwhile, could provide unprecedented flexibility to manufacturers in their factories and supply chains alike.
"All of those things, when you combine them, enable manufacturing to happen anywhere in the world," Weisler said. "It democratizes manufacturing."
Weisler also said that the magnitude of the transformation meant that "it was going to be difficult for any one company to lead." HP began talks with Deloitte in hopes of leveraging the firm's manufacturing and supply chain expertise; both companies also work with industrial giant Siemens and software provider SAP.
"We are truly here to change the world," Deloitte CEO Punit Renjen at the press conference.
The partnership will begin in the U.S. before expanding abroad. Officials conceded that manufacturers are generally risk-averse but said that the competitive advantages of 3D printing would become too big to ignore.
Deloitte supply chain principal Doug Gish predicted that after decades of slow growth, 3D printing is rapidly approaching a tipping point.
"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," Gish said. "So over the next three to five years, we really expect to see this take off."