Speed and scale are likely to remain limiting factors to adoption as well. “An airplane manufacturer may only need to resource 100 components a month to meet their needs. Contrast that with an auto manufacturer where it would be in the thousands. Imagine the facility you’d need to meet that order on a regular basis,” EY Global Advanced Manufacturing & Mobility Leader Randy Miller said.
Of the technical challenges ahead, materials costs for the resins used in AM production are perhaps the biggest in the short run, but scale and technological advances are expected to reduce those costs. The availability of knowledgeable AM engineers is also likely to be a limiting factor.
Down the line, there are also other reasons for optimism, as the technology advances beyond the layer over layer method. First, the range of materials that can be used is expanding, and second, the old impression of slow layer-by-layer AM production, where resin would drip like syrup on a pancake, is no longer the only 3D process on tap.
“Still,” Gootee added, “I think it’s important to remember that when we talk about additive manufacturing, it’s not all plastics and, as we’re finding with technological advances, we have more at our disposal beyond the layer-by-layer approach. I think we’ll see great strides on the speed and scalability issue in the coming years.”
Sven Dharmani, EY Global Advanced Manufacturing and Mobility Supply Chain Leader, also believes there is cause for optimism. “I think we’ll see that the pace of technology to address the challenges of additive manufacturing will further accelerate. Necessity really is the mother of invention.”
Dharmani notes that given the growing awareness of the supply chain challenges, many businesses face that AM can mitigate will spur innovation throughout the 2020s.
“These challenges are shared from Detroit to Delhi, and there’s genuine — and growing — interest in seeing them addressed,” he explained. “As manufacturers look to build more flexibility in their supply chains there’s substantial motivation to see additive manufacturing used to its fullest potential.”