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For 3-D printing to live up to its potential, manufacturers need an enterprise software foundation engineered for flexibility, global collaboration and integration.
The potential for 3-D printing is like something out of Star Trek.
Fans of the TV and film series got a glimpse of 3-D printing with the "replicator," a device that could produce spare parts, food and other necessities aboard the USS Enterprise.
A few decades later, 3-D printing has leapt from science fiction into the mainstream.
For manufacturers, the disruptive implications of 3-D printing are massive. Evangelists envision that manufacturers can slash lead times and net huge cost savings in materials, labor and transportation.
The global supply chain shrinks, and R&D cycles hit warp speed across collaborative design networks. Mass-personalized goods can be manufactured in a batch size of one, meeting business and consumer demand for products built to exacting specifications.
3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is still in its infancy, but many manufacturers are not waiting on the sidelines.
Monolithic and inflexible on-premise ERP is distinctly at odds with the requirements of 3-D printing on a significant scale. Cloud computing offers an alternative."
A survey by the global consultancy PwC found that 67% of manufacturers are adopting 3-D printing in some way, most frequently in prototyping. Just 9% of manufacturers don't envision ever adopting 3-D printing. The availability of 3-D printers through Amazon, Home Depot, Sears and others is helping fuel momentum in the nascent industry.
"For some industries and some products, the concept of 3DP-enabled 'on-demand' manufacturing could radically change business models and supply chains," said PwC's Robert McCutcheon, partner, U.S. Industrial Products Sector.
"It holds the potential to transform some manufacturing business models—and the complex, costly supply chains and distribution networks upon which they were built."