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3-D Printing the C-Suite

Five additive manufacturing disruptions that senior executives need to prepare for.

Additive manufacturing has come a long way.

Over the last few years, 3-D printing has emerged from R&D labs carried by rapid advances in materials, technologies, software and availability, and has begun to rewrite the core business and manufacturing capabilities at some of the biggest companies in the world.

It is no longer just for geeks and technicians, designers and makers. Capitalizing on this grown-up industry requires strategic guidance from the very top.

With $550 billion at stake over the next 12 years, it's time for the c-suite to get involved.

To help, McKinsey & Co. has identified five industry disruptions for which senior executives need to prepare to keep from being swept away in the revolution.

From 3-D Printing Takes Shape:

1. Accelerated Product-Development Cycles

"Over time, 3-D printing will begin to affect how companies think about R&D more broadly, given how the technology enhances the ability to crowdsource ideas through remote cooperation. For some companies, that crowdsourced brainpower might one day begin supplanting R&D activities, making its management a new priority."

2. New Manufacturing Strategies and Footprints

"As costs continue to fall and the capabilities of 3-D printers increase, the range of parts that can be economically manufactured using additive techniques will broaden dramatically."

3. Shifting Sources of Profit

"Reducing the reliance on hard tooling (which facilitates the manufacture of thousands of identical items) creates an opportunity to offer customized or bespoke designs at lower cost—and to a far broader range of customers."

4. New Capabilities

"While there is a wealth of knowledge around design for manufacturing, much less is available on design for printing. Our conversations with executives at manufacturing companies suggest that many are aware of this gap and scrambling to catalog their design know-how."

5. Disruptive Competitors

"New businesses are already popping up to offer highly customized or collaboratively designed products. Others act as platforms for the manufacture and distribution of products designed and sold online by their customers. These businesses are gaining insights into consumer tastes and building relationships that established companies could struggle to match."

You can check out McKinsey's full article, "3-D Printing Takes Shape," in the January issue of the McKinsey Quarterly.

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