The impact of 3D printing
3D printing is a transversal technology that presents new possibilities, constitutes a potential enabler for new business and productive models and has the potential to change and often disrupt the status quo in many different industries. 3D printing is flexible, versatile, has the potential to transform logistics and enables mass-customisation of products – but companies must be aware that part of the 3D printing’s promise is strongly hyped.
Industrial vs. Semi-professional 3D printing
Despite the increasing popularity of semi-professional 3D printing –i.e. relatively affordable household printers–, this segment still has an uncertain future that very much depends on technological evolution and its ability to bring added-value applications with major impact on our everyday life, which are nowadays still to be seen. Is it worth it for the average, non-technical user to invest a few hundred euros in a machine the best use of which seems to be printing plastic Yoda figurines and needs continuous fixing? Developments must be aimed at increasing machine reliability, improve quality of fabricated objects, provide easier-to-use solutions, and on top of all, offer added-value applications for the average, non-technical user.
Industrial-grade 3D printing faces a very different situation: although not yet widespread, it’s a proven technology that drives competitive advantage to businesses today –e.g. Airbus, Avinent, GE, …– and represents the majority of the 3D printing market value. It’s most commonly used to fabricate scale models, tooling and small parts, mock-ups and prototypes, personalised or customised products and high added-value industrial parts in sectors such as healthcare and biomedicine, the automotive and aerospace sectors and other metal and machinery industries. To increase penetration, however, improvements in fabrication speed, range and quality of applicable materials, costs of printers and available materials, surface quality of produced parts and degree of automation need to be addressed.
Impact of 3D Printing in Barcelona and Catalunya
Barcelona Activa, the economic development agency of the city of Barcelona, is very aware of the relevance of the technology and has recently asked Bax & Company to perform a deeper study on the matter, with a detailed look at the impact on employment.
Barcelona and Catalunya are nowadays home to a dynamic ecosystem of hundreds of organisations including companies, universities, RTD centres and associations actively working on and with 3D printing (Exhibit 2), which include world-leading organisations such as Hewlett-Packard, Avinent or FabLab Barcelona. There is still a need, however, for increased coordination, international visibility, talent availability and stronger initiatives and organisations to boost the international relevance of the region, and all actors in the ecosystem must play their part.
Companies leading the adoption of the technology have had and will have to train their existing workforce in order to obtain the value they seek, while new job opportunities across different sectors and backed by new business models emerge. To know more about how 3D printing will impact different profiles in your organisation, please have a look at the full report.