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IT, IT Leadership

3D Printing Threat or Opportunity? What is your strategy?

3D PrintingI was recently asked to pose the CIO Question of the week at the Enterprise CIO forum and chose to start a debate on 3D Printing.

This is a technology that has been around for 20-30 years, but recently it has become a lot cheaper, to the extent that home and industrial machines are now within reach and are becoming more sophisticated.

Many people think of 3D printing in terms of paper or plastic, however, it is now possible to use any of the following:

    • Concrete
    • Paper
    • Rubber
    • Human Cells
    • Metal
    • Plastic
    • Sand
    • Edible (e.g. Meat, Chocolate)

Think of the parts inventory a car dealer holds. If they only needed to have blueprints, a 3D printer and raw materials, but could then make most of their parts on site…………….. That is a massive cost, space and convenience saving.

UPS and Staples are both investing in pilot programs with 3D printing.

Boeing is already using 3D printers to build parts on site for their planes and saving weight and cost in the process.

Extract from this article at Orient Aviation:

Don’t look now, but pieces of that B787 Dreamliner that just landed didn’t come off the traditional production line of some parts supplier. They were printed using one of the fastest developing new technologies currently grabbing headlines, the 3D printer. Indeed, Boeing already 3-D prints 300 distinct aircraft parts – most go on military jets – at a cost saving of 25% to 50% per part. The Dreamliner has about 30 3D-printed parts, including environmental control ducts (ECDs) that carry cool air to electronic equipment. “Some of these ducts have complicated shapes and formerly had to be assembled from numerous pieces, boosting labour costs,” said Dan Seal, Boeing’s immersive development programme manager. ECDs traditionally require the costly production and assembly of up to 20 different parts, but can be 3-D printed in one piece.

The true impact of this still remains to be seen and only time will tell. However, to stimulate the conversation some thought starters are below.


    1. A whole new industry built around ability to have objects created locally.
    2. A new marketplace for selling 3D CAD drawings of objects.
    3. Instead of finished goods shipped from China etc, many things can be created locally by your 3D print shop.
    4. No need for factories, car dealers etc to hold large parts inventories – just 3D print the part on demand.
    5. Ability to customise an existing design to your personal needs, then have it created.

Threats / problems:

    1. Legality and licensing of creating objects, or copying existing designs.
    2. Access to 3D CAD drawings of objects.
    3. Longer term: A threat to the transportation and logistics industry – if many finished goods are created locally then only raw materials need to be shipped long distances……….
    4. Longer term: Threat to retailers if people can create their own finished goods

Some of the above may be an extrapolation, but a lot of it is far closer than you might imagine. The Gartner Hype Cycle predicts that wide scale Enterprise use of this technology is only 2-5 years away.

I would be interested in your thoughts and comments, so please click the link, read the interesting dialogue and add your thoughts to the CIO Question of the week at Enterprise CIO forum.


2 thoughts on “3D Printing Threat or Opportunity? What is your strategy?

  1. You bring up some good points. My opinion is that we should embrace 3D printing. As with any technology, it’s up to us to use it responsibly and effectively. If the industries that you mention being affected choose to adapt and capitalize on 3D printing rather than just fighting against it they will likely come out in a much better position.

    Also, remember that not all industries or jobs will be around forever and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Think of all the disgusting, dangerous and laborious jobs that have been replaced by modern technology. I don’t think many would argue that it’s a shame we no longer have young boys sweeping chimneys. That is the ‘price’ of progress. Other industries and jobs will be created around these new technologies anyway.


    Posted by Tyson Printers | December 4, 2013, 8:08 am

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