Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, offers us the ability to shift how we think about and deliver products. For the industry-minded, the abilities enabled by AM in terms of design, time to part, part costs, and part or system performance, create exciting opportunities. Additive manufacturing makes customization in manufacturing both scalable and cost-effective in a way it’s never been before.

3D Systems’ experts can advise on how to make parts lighter, higher performing, better customized, or otherwise more optimal.

The questions raised by additive manufacturing are: where does 3D printing fit into my business, and when is the right time to add it to the factory floor? With each new use case that emerges, we move away from asking if additive manufacturing is valuable, and instead want to know how can we access and maximize the value we know is there. In other words: how to get started.

Based on a 2016 Ernst & Young study, the market is beginning to ask these questions about AM, but finding the answers and effectively implementing additive manufacturing remains a challenge. According to E&Y data, 4 percent of the companies using additive manufacturing are doing so strategically. This leaves the vast majority of other AM users either in an experimental or narrow adoption category, or not yet involved with AM.

Yet these statistics paint an incomplete picture of underlying industry trends. A recent Gartner Group report indicates that by 2019, 10 percent of people in the developing world will be living with 3D printed items in or on their bodies. The same report also indicates that by 2019, 10 percent of all discrete manufacturers will be using 3D printers to produce parts for the products they sell or service.

This raises yet another question: what accounts for the anticipated increase in adoption? The answer is not as simple as companies buying more 3D printers; increases in adoption are being led by additive manufacturing companies taking the responsibility to transfer their expertise and know-how to their customers. This is essential. An efficient additive manufacturing workflow does not exist until each stage of development is accounted for, from design to manufacturing, and connected in a knowledgeable and effective way.

Additive manufacturing in healthcare is a great example. The Gartner prediction is reasonable and realistic because very few healthcare providers or companies are exploring AM in isolation. By partnering with 3D Systems, healthcare providers and medical device manufacturers are able to access the expertise and resources they need – whether they are in design, prototyping, production, or a combination of stages. Through partnership with AM industry leaders, companies and teams of all sizes are shortening learning curves and design cycles by leaps and bounds to accelerate results

By partnering with 3D Systems to add 3D printing to its production technologies, K2M has expanded the scope of its spine solutions.

K2M is a perfect illustration of this point. K2M started as a company that provided new technologies and devices for treating spinal deformities, but by partnering with 3D Systems to add 3D printing to its production technologies, K2M has expanded the scope of its solutions into the rapidly growing market for devices that treat spinal degeneration through more minimally invasive procedures. 3D Systems provides design consultancy, 3D print production and post-treatment for K2M’s FDA-cleared CASCADIA family of interbody systems, including heat treatment, surface finishing, cleaning and laser marking – everything required to deliver a finished product.

Jim Ham, director of marketing for K2M’s Complex Spine Group, summarized K2M’s experience very well in our success story with K2M: “We needed 3D printing capabilities to continue to develop our degenerative and minimally invasive portfolios, and 3D Systems gave us those capabilities. Our partnership with 3D Systems drove our leadership in 3D printing of spinal devices, which has vaulted us further into the broader spine space and accounted for a lot of our growth over the last few years."  

At 3D Systems, customer partnership begins as early as the design phase, and sometimes well before, with guidance from highly knowledgeable application engineers who can consult on the best approach for the desired results. With an understanding of design and manufacturing goals, 3D Systems’ experts can advise on how to make parts lighter, higher performing, better customized, or otherwise more optimal. In addition to design strategy, design consultation includes identifying the best build material and production technology. If a customer prefers to bring manufacturing in-house, that is an option at any stage but is not required to experiment or even produce with AM. On Demand Manufacturing services for 3D printed parts can be used on an interim or indefinite basis.

Strategic deployment of AM should be the goal across businesses and industries to introduce greater operational agility, flexibility and cost-effectiveness. Where and how AM fits within a specific environment may differ, but in order to get the answer the question has to be asked. 3D Systems is uniquely positioned to advise and build additive manufacturing workflows and solutions to move businesses from not having enough expertise and resources for manufacturing, to making additive manufacturing a sustainable, competitive advantage for their company.

Interested in bringing additive manufacturing into your organization? Talk to our experts to get started.