Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is increasingly being heralded by analysts and EMS and ODM companies alike as a game-changing technology. Already AM has revolutionized design- and engineering-intensive businesses by allowing them to achieve expedited market delivery, increased customization, and improved design, functionality, and performance.

But despite the epochal changes AM has already affected in the manufacturing industry, there remain challenges to its widespread adoption. These challenges include:

Fragmented design knowledge

Worldwide, there are still skills gaps for AM product design. Because AM affords unprecedented levels of freedom in design, capitalizing on AM’s potential necessitates a radical rethinking of core design processes. Much like the way the Information Age challenged the design and engineering assumptions formed by the Industrial Age, AM requires cognitive shifts that have lagged significantly behind the appearance of the technology. Analysts speculate that most companies have barely scratched the surface of what is possible with AM, and that there exists a worldwide learning curve for AM-enabled design that has yet to be mastered.

Cost-prohibitive production costs

AM currently allows for highly cost-effective design and manufacture of a relatively small subset of products and components, but widespread adoption is not yet economically feasible. Though AM virtually eliminates the expensive up-front tooling costs of traditional processes, diminishing returns are realized as production volume increases. However, the volume threshold with plastics (where AM is at its most cost-effective) is increasing, with reports of companies retaining the cost advantage even at 5,000 units for small, simple objects. Conversely, due to multiple interconnected variables (high cost of metals, slow build times, extended machining hours, high energy consumption, and post-production expenses), metal-based AM remains significantly less cost-effective than traditional molding or machining methods.

Limited production scale

Most AM machinery is designed for prototyping rather than series production, making scaling for mass production an impossibility for most products and components. The future of AM lies in its capacity to continue to reduce production costs while expanding its capacity for industrial production.

The good news is that these limitations are being surmounted by innovative AM design services, specialized consulting firms, and government-funded applied R&D. Some analysts predict that the next generation of AM will slash current production costs as patents expire, post-processing needs are decreased, and manufacturers leverage increasing economies of scale.

Further, larger AM manufacturers believe that AM can achieve what is currently available only through traditional production processes not only with plastics but also with metals. And with new and promising polymers and alloys on the way AM performance can exceed that of contemporary plastic- or metal-based materials.

At Pivot, we’re a driving force behind the innovative design services that are paving the way for the next generation of AM and the future of product development. If you’re looking to bring a product to market or simply to enhance your manufacturing operations, we can help. At Pivot, we have a track record of over forty years of expert experience in partnering with businesses to help them successfully launch new products, and with manufacturers to achieve state-of-the-art operations. Contact us today and see what we can do for you.