In its latest white paper, the World Economic Forum – an independent international organization that engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas -, forecasts a widespread, mass production of industrial 3D printing in the next decade.

The white paper also highlights the relationship between the coronavirus pandemic and the large use of additive manufacturing (AM) technologies. Entitled “An Additive Manufacturing Breakthrough: A How-to Guide for Scaling and Overcoming Key Challenges”, the paper has been written in collaboration with ETH Zurich and three Fraunhofer research institutes (IGCV, IPT, and IAPT) and is released ahead of the 2022 edition of its Swiss summit, which will run from 22-26 May.

It ambitions to provide manufacturing companies with a realistic yet cutting-edge understanding of what AM can deliver today, and why some are achieving that potential while others are not, as well as the most probable near-term future production scenarios we can expect and what needs to happen to help accelerate their deployment.

Indeed, today, all predictions surrounding 3D printing have not always become a reality. For this reason, the team behind this project issued a seven-point industry call to action, designed to allow 3D printing to finally reach the mass-inflection point initially predicted in the early-2010s.

By following the proposed call to action presented in our paper, a major leap in industrializing AM can be jointly developed from within the AM ecosystem,” reads the WEF’s paper. “With these changes, future business models and many new applications will be feasible in the next five to ten years, leading to a steady growth of the overall market, and offering disruptive potential for some industries.

It also shows that despite the greatly improved maturity of AM, potential roadblocks can still be found along the whole value chain – including the fields of technology, organizations and ecosystems.

This state of the market is filled with a series of interviews conducted with manufacturing leaders such as EOSStratasys and HP, certification firms like DNV-GL and TÜV SÜD, and AM users ranging from Deutsche Bahn to PrintCity Manchester. These interviews aimed to define anew “return on investment (ROI)-based narrative of the industrialization of AM.”

Despite the positive outlooks, the project team found out that hurdles that prevent mass adoption of AM occur on both manufacturing, and organizational fronts – not to mention that in the long-run, four main challenges will be essential to address.

As far as the technology is concerned, process predictability, material availability, post-processing and certification are the biggest limitations.

On the other hand, there is still a “lack of clear AM adoption strategy” at many organizations that want to explore AM – not to mention the lack of standardization, and challenges related to integrated digital process chains.

Four practical recommendations and seven calls to action

According to the group’s study, more needs to be done to digitize the process chain and educate engineers in commercial settings. Furthermore, governments should be involved in this path to adoption, by enabling funding into related research. If all this can be accomplished, the WEF anticipates that 3D printing can allow users to achieve a quicker ROI, leading to its wider application, particularly as an in-sourcing tool.

Depending on advances within the AM ecosystem, production could shift towards fully integrated industrialization,” concludes the WEF paper. “Most experts do not expect disruptive developments in the near term, but rather foresee a slow and steady development. Consequently, a possible breakthrough for serial production and mass customization within five to 10 years is foreseeable.”

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