If you’re a confessed tinkerer like me, it’s hard not to get excited about 3D printing. Dream it and you can build it. Using CAD designs, 3D printers fabricate solid objects from digital images. Believe it or not, 3D printers are making everything from pizza and high-fashion clothing to human organs and parts for the space shuttle.
Because 3D printing has the potential to turn every large enterprise, small business and living room into a factory I don’t feel it’s exaggerating to say 3D printing is one of the most important inventions since the personal computer. According to Gartner, “The 3D printer market will grow from $288 million to more than $5.7 billion by 2017 as consumer 3D printing hype accelerates 3D printer purchases by enterprises worldwide.”*
Should You Add 3D Printing to Your Portfolio?
Developed in the 80s, 3D printing is nothing new. Only now it’s exponentially more cost-effective and efficient than ever before. As you consider how 3D printing could provide your business with a competitive advantage, you should focus like a laser on your business goals. What problems will 3D printing solve for your company: rapid prototyping, uniquely customized products, etc?
Like most emerging technologies, 3D printing can wind up wasting your time and distracting you from your priorities. (You can explore the “worst of the 3D-printing hype” here). Used wisely, 3D printing will help companies to gain an edge by customizing products at rapid rates, producing breakthrough products at hyper-speed, and masterminding new business models.
During his 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama declared, “3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” Yet, despite 3D printing’s boundless possibilities, it hasn’t entered the everyday vernacular of business executives or consumers. Next year that could change as patents on 3D printers expire and devices flood the marketplace.
Why IT is Important in 3D Printing
Everyone is excited about the democratization of technology and devoting a lot of energy to disavowing the IT department’s role in power user computing. But, people who say that the IT department isn’t needed for 3D printing aren’t seeing the bigger picture. Here’s why IT should be involved:
- CIOs can evaluate 3D printing for disruptive potential by engaging other C-Suite peers in discussions about the possibilities, linking the technology to business goals and exploring 3D printing with rapid prototyping.
- IT must guide their organizations in the use of CAD data files required for 3D printing—creating new data types, new data models, new content types to search and organize, etc.
- 3D items must be designed or imaged, requiring new cameras, scanners, CAD tools, etc. In addition, enterprise-owned 3D printers are new devices that need to be connected to networks and secured.
What could your competitor be conjuring with an investment in 3D printing exploration? Could it disrupt your industry? Think about how 3D printing can advance your business, then engage your C-Suite peers in conversations about the possibilities and “make” your future.
*Gartner Forecast: 3D Printers, Worldwide, 2013, Pete Basiliere; Zalak Shah; Yulan Li, 27 September 2013