Briefing: 3-D printing

April 28, 2017



Get up to speed on the latest trends and developments, including interviews with innovators and an infographic.

Three-dimensional (3-D) printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has existed in some form since the 1980s. However, until recently, the technology has not been technically advanced or cost-effective enough to be a practical alternative for most end-product or high-volume commercial manufacturing purposes. This is changing. During the next several years, the rapid evolution of 3-D printing will likely alter supply chains and remake manufacturing processes that date to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

As the growing capabilities of 3-D printing are rapidly refined, the technology’s potential to revolutionize not just manufacturing, but also other industries, becomes clearer.

Who is investing the most? Automotive companies, aerospace and defense, and industrial manufacturing are today’s top investors; in three years, pharmaceutical companies also will make the cut. Investments in 3-D printing are not yet widespread. Twelve percent of the respondents to PwC’s 2017 Global Digital IQ Survey: Emerging technology insights indicate they are now investing in additive manufacturing. In three years, 15 percent say 3-D printing will be on their investment sheets.

But some companies have already committed to wide-scale adoption of the technology. Several medical device manufacturers are helping to lead the trend. Currently, 98 percent of hearing aids worldwide are produced by 3-D printers, which can uniquely customize the aids to fit the shapes of individual ears. One medical device company is 3-D printing titanium skull plates for patients who have suffered head traumas. Others are actively exploring the technology for use in creating artificial limbs.

The pace at which 3-D printing technology is advancing is impressive—industry leaders are effectively addressing common issues, such as difficult-to-use materials and slow production turnaround times. Access is also improving—the evolution of 3-D printer fleets maintained by companies that rent their technologies to clients is negating the need for hefty up-front investments from individual businesses. The 3-D printing market was worth nearly $9 billion in 2016. Analysts predict that value to rise to $30 billion by 2022.

In this briefing, we provide an overview of the state of 3-D printing technology, profile companies and developments that are fueling innovations, and predict the potentially revolutionary aspects of this rapidly evolving technology. Bookmark this page and check back often for analysis of the latest developments.

Featured 3-D printing content

Our curated collection provides an overview on the state of 3-D printing technology, profiles companies and developments that are fueling innovations, and looks at the challenges to adoption. Check back for new insights.


Chris Curran

Principal and Chief Technologist, PwC US Tel: +1 (214) 754 5055 Email

Vicki Huff Eckert

Global New Business & Innovation Leader Tel: +1 (650) 387 4956 Email

Mark McCaffery

US Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Leader Tel: +1 (408) 817 4199 Email