According to Gartner, 3D printers can be a competitive advantage for companies that own them, and can be used for rapid prototyping, or even production purposes.
Staples is one of the largest US store chains selling office equipment and supplies. There you can find absolutely everything you need for the office including staplers, personal bins, and files and binders of all kinds. From June you will also be able to find 3D printers. Cube, the 3D printer they are selling, is made by 3D systems, a South Carolina-based integrated solutions 3D printing company. Cube, which is compatible with Mac and Windows, carries a price tag of $1,299. So 3D printing, which was until recently available to the general public only via online or mobile services such as Sculpteo, is now within the reach of almost everyone, and certainly of every company. The forthcoming appearance of 3D printers in Staples stores marks a turning point, and raises a number of questions in the United States. What exactly could this new technology do for a given company? A report from leading information technology research and advisory firm Gartner, published in late March, suggests that making use of 3D printing could prove to be a competitive advantage for companies.
3D printing in the workplace
At the macro level, 3D printing has the potential to impact a company’s production lines. As the process improves, companies could very soon print components, models, and even objects for sale – including personalized items – themselves. Gartner believes that 3D printing offers companies the opportunity to create new ranges of products which can be specially designed to suit this new manufacturing process. Making components, objects and even tools using the 3D printing technique would definitely constitute a competitive advantage in terms of saving production time, cutting out several steps in the production chain and allowing faster time-to-market. Moreover, 3D printing could well stimulate in-company innovation, as it allows fast building of prototypes and models with almost zero risk – in short, providing great encouragement for experimentation.
Lowering entry barriers
A number of sectors already make use of 3D printing, including the automobile industry, consumer goods manufacturers, pharmaceutical firms and even the armed forces. However, this pioneering approach is as yet far from widespread. The kind of 3D printer models sold at Staples for example have their limitations. For the moment they can only print out objects in plastic materials, and the size of the end product is limited to 15 cubic centimeters. Nevertheless Gartner predicts that the 3D printing market will have grown substantially by 2016, with more software development, more sophisticated printers, a wider choice of materials, and so on. In-company 3D printing is only in its infancy. Meanwhile, as firms wait for the next generation of printers, Gartner recommends that they get hold of models such as Cube, become familiar with them, and start to experiment with the process.