The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has revealed that adopting 3D printing and other emerging technologies could save the US manufacturing industry more than $100 billion a year, as well as driving innovation and growth.
NIST produced an in-depth economic study in four advanced manufacturing disciplines that produce diverse products ranging from noise-cancelling headphones through to advanced automobile composite materials.
The non-profit agency revealed that 3D printing alone could save the commercial world up to $4.1 billion, which equates to an 18.3% reduction in production costs where additive manufacturing is the more effective option. It also revealed that US manufacturers need a much more rigorous approach to measurement science and ‘proof-of-concept’ demonstrations with emerging technologies.
The institution interviewed manufacturers, managers, researchers, and product developers to identify 5-10 major barriers to the adoption of modern technologies such as additive manufacturing.
The sheer cost of implementing a 3D printing production line, the speed of printing, and simple skillset concerns are often quoted as the main barriers to a widespread shift towards 3D printing for end-use manufacturing. But when a business actually does the math and analyzes the benefits properly, the report suggests that it makes a compelling case for making the jump right now.
“Gaps in the technology infrastructure, including the lack of reliable measurement and test methods, scientifically based standards, and other formal knowledge and tool's limit advanced manufacturing’s further development and adoption,” said NIST economist Gary Anderson.
3D printing, advanced robotics, roll-to-roll and smart manufacturing could all combine to save that magical $100-billion-a-year sum, according to the report. The NIST reckons that advanced robotics and automation could save $40.1 billion on their own and smart manufacturing methods could save $57.4 billion.
There is an uncomfortable assumption with these numbers, however, which is that smaller and medium-sized companies can bring manufacturing methods into line with the biggest companies in the world. That simply won’t happen overnight, and advanced robotics are simply beyond the budget of smaller companies.
NIST maintains that even smaller companies need to look at their numbers much more closely and understand that data analysis is key to cutting production costs and maximizing profits. Arguably the biggest finding of the report is that companies need to work with local institutions, adopt a non-proprietary and standardized measurement system, and then audit the entire business to find the best manufacturing and management strategy.
“Our studies emphasize that full economic impact will only be realized if all technical needs are met, and all stakeholders regardless of size, not just large manufacturers, can share the rewards,” said Anderson, who went on to claim that the numbers are relatively conservative and didn’t include indirect benefits.
“If we consider the larger-scale outcomes brought about by meeting these needs—such as new and improved products, increased production quality, long-term industry growth and job creation—the impacts would be significantly higher,” Anderson said
3D printing is commonplace when it comes to rapid prototyping, but if companies don’t have to produce tooling for a production line, designers can continuously implement feedback and improve a product throughout its lifespan. Localized production could cut transport costs, and mass customization is also a possibility with additive manufacturing, and that could generate significant revenue on its own.
The tipping point is coming, and manufacturers are bringing the cost and speed of 3D printing into line with the manufacturing industry’s requirements. Some have already made the jump to create 3D printed products, but we’re still waiting for the seismic shift towards additive manufacturing by mainstream manufacturing.


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