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Paul Gustafson

3D Printing: Are You Ready?

Posted by Paul Gustafson in CIO Engage on Nov 29, 2012 9:08:53 AM

3D printers are the newest "node on the network" in the ever expanding "internet of things."


As this happens, what are the implications for IT?  How can IT get out in front of this trend and help guide the business?


CSC’s Leading Edge Forum is releasing a new report today, 3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing, that examines the opportunities and potential of 3D printing as not just a manufacturing technology but also a digital technology. 3D printing, linked by the Internet and open design, is providing a platform for collaboration and innovation (and disruption) in the material world, just as the Internet fostered collaboration and innovation (and disruption) in the digital world.


To help manufacturing firms grasp the opportunities and challenges of 3D printing, here are 10 questions from the report that CIOs and business leaders need to be asking:


  1. When products can be manufactured with the same ease as walking down the hall to print paper copies, how will you keep your company’s business model relevant?
  2. What are the business implications of delivering a digital design rather than a physical product to your customers? When your customers do manufacturing instead of you, what are the implications for product quality, product safety (e.g., a product recall) and intellectual property protection?
  3. How can your company use 3D printing to improve your end product? Possibilities include consolidating components to reduce maintenance, creating lighter-weight products and leveraging new materials research.
  4. In a world of 3D printing, will your customers continue to need large production runs? Even if it is more cost-effective for your company to manufacture large quantities, will your customers demand more frequent changes and upgrades? Has the expected lifetime of your product changed?
  5. Is your factory going to become an assembler rather than a manufacturer? A hybrid? What effect will this have on your existing production lines for length, direction, workstations, staffing, storage, etc.? How will your inbound logistics processes change to reflect those alterations?
  6. What is the new relationship between IT and manufacturing?  Between IT and product designers, scientists and engineers? How can IT use 3D printing to enable manufacturing, not overtake it?
  7. Where are the opportunities for driving greater customer intimacy, such as customization and co-creation with your end customer? How can you best integrate online buying and mass customization to meet customer needs? What types of technology platforms are required to enable this? Is your company or industry susceptible to open design trends?
  8. How will you prepare for new competitors, including new entrants and DIYers? Do the current benefits of 3D printing (low cost, high customization, delivery close to point of use) challenge your existing product line? Do future areas of 3D printing research pose a threat?
  9. What organizational factors could prevent (or support) your adoption of 3D printing – for example, operating model, resource allocation, on-shore/off-shore mix, financial model, culture – and how will you address them?
  10. Where should your company make capital investments today? What training and education investments are required? What investments should your company avoid?


As Howard Smith asks, is the world about to change again?  In a word, yes.  Today’s 3D printing developments only scratch the surface of what the ultimate impact will be.  But with new products, new materials, new “makers” and new supply chains (or lack thereof) in the offing, expect the impact to be significant.  It is early days, but CIOs need to have 3D printing on their radar and can be steering their organizations now.


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