Thought Leadership

Industrial-scale additive manufacturing: challenges and potential

By Robert Meshel

Additive manufacturing is one of the most promising opportunities associated with Industry 4.0, the much-discussed fourth generation of manufacturing that will be dominated by intelligent automation, digital twins and threads, and the Internet of Things.

Yet decades after 3D printing was invented, the global manufacturing industry is far from realizing large-scale production of high-quality industrial parts using additive manufacturing (AM). A few companies are printing hundreds or thousands of parts used in finished goods, but manufacturers mostly use AM to accelerate product development or for low-volume production of customized parts. A handful of large industrial OEMs are using AM to make parts, but compared with total parts production, their outputs are minuscule.

For example, AM pioneer GE Aviation is making fuel nozzles for its next-generation turbofan engines, but adoption among all aerospace engine producers is slow. BCG estimates that it will take until 2030 for just 20 percent of critical aerospace engine parts to be produced using AM.

Likewise, for the automotive industry, BCG sees predominate near-term use to be prototyping and small volume production for high-performance cars and spare parts.

The additive manufacturing market is growing and is predicted to exceed $350 billion globally by 2035. Even at that size, the AM industry would be serving only about 1.5 percent of the potential $23 trillion addressable market, according to BCG.

Geographic uptake varies as well. According to AM consultants Roland Berger, the United States is far ahead of other countries with 37 percent of the world’s installed AM equipment and systems. China has 10 percent, followed by Japan (9 percent) and Germany (8 percent).

These gaps represent huge potential for global automotive, aerospace and industrial machinery/tooling manufacturers that want to differentiate themselves and become more innovative and competitive.

First, they need to overcome several barriers.

Barriers to large-scale industrial parts additive manufacturing

Access to knowledge. One major challenge is that it has been difficult for product designers, procurement specialists, production engineers and other front-line roles to tap into quickly evolving technologies and techniques in the AM market. There is risk because AM requires an entirely new knowledge base about new types of materials, applications, machinery, suppliers, guidelines, timelines and workflows.

Manufacturers need access to knowledgeable partners in the AM market so they can shorten the time it takes to build profitable models, and thus reduce risk. Early adopters have made large resource investments in proprietary models that aren’t transparent or easily repeated.

Justifying your business case. Another hurdle manufacturers face is identifying a justifiable business case. Although AM eliminates or reduces costs in some areas, it remains expensive and can increase total input costs. As adoption grows, costs will decline, but until then AM is a costly investment.

Balancing costs with offsets—such as higher part quality or system performance, better customer service or elimination of inventory—can be impossible without informed input that comes from multiple internal functions.

The change required is complicated and, ultimately, is easier to stick with the status quo of prototyping and limited-run batches instead of taking the next step to large-volume production.

Perceived risk. Finally, some view AM as risky compared with established design and production protocols, which companies have spent decades refining through ever-tighter process controls and supplier collaboration and certification.

With AM, this refinement and vetting starts over in a growing, fragmented market of machines, materials, applications and services. The risk is not only in the unknown, but in the plethora of possibilities. It can quickly become difficult to identify the right combination of providers for each unique business case.

These barriers are holding back demand for large-volume AM parts and, in the process, slowing the uptake of an innovative path into modernized, differentiated manufacturing. To help build demand and increase adoption, Siemens has created the Siemens Additive Manufacturing Network, a cloud-based open-platform service that links a trusted network of major players together to work jointly to advance AM industrialization.

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A new AM approach to ease adoption and lower risk

Through this new platform, parts buyers can connect with print service bureaus, printing machines, additive manufacturing application developers, engineering/consulting experts and materials providers to cross-leverage the ever-expanding knowledge base of this network. Simultaneously, providers can connect with one another to deliver the end-to-end solution that will be most appropriate for the part buyer’s needs.

Unlike vendor marketplaces or single-vendor roadmaps for AM adoption or expansion, participants here have the opportunity to amass and share continuously increased and refined knowledge together as they configure and execute on AM plans and strategies. The platform democratizes the data and other knowledge needed for AM as participants work together.

As more participants join and more projects are completed, the knowledge base grows.

More immediately, we see three strategic opportunities for sourcing high-quality industrial parts using the SMN:

1) Design for additive manufacturing, which can result in unique parts with high-demand attributes like lightness, efficient fuel consumption, or temperature resistance
2) More economical scaling of production for buyers and suppliers as demand for printed parts grows
3) Replacing physical inventories with digital inventories by using on-demand production when parts are needed

Think of the Siemens AMN as an ecosystem that accelerates the distribution of AM knowledge and tools among participants, while also facilitating the distributed transactions that need to occur to execute large-scale production of industrial parts.

For OEMs that want to start or expand AM, it’s the perfect place to not only find reliable partners, but also find answers to questions about organizing, planning and executing a successful AM strategy.

This concludes the first part of our series on revolutionizing the additive manufacturing market. In part two, we discuss how industrial OEMs can use large-volume 3D-printed parts to design high-quality systems with in-demand attributes and control inventory.

About the author
Robert Meshel
is the director of the Siemens’ Additive Manufacturing Network initiative, a new online collaborative platform designed to accelerate the use of additive manufacturing in the global manufacturing industry. This initiative was born under his previous role, as the director of strategy for the manufacturing engineering software unit. Driven by the passion for technology and business innovation, Robert is relentlessly pursuing new strategic opportunities developed within the organization or by external partners that are seeking to mark a significant impact of the future of humanity. Prior to that Robert, was the cofounder and the CEO of Synvertech, a technological startup that addresses major hurdles in mass adoption of renewable energy. He was also the vice president of business development at ETV Energy, a technological startup that develops novel Li-ion battery cells for the transportation market. Robert earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Tel-Aviv University and an Executive MBA from the Kellogg- Recanati International program. He is also a graduate of the Singularity University executive program.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at