Author: Stephanie Casey, CPA | Tax Manager
Additive manufacturing (AM) or three-dimensional (3D) printing is big news in the manufacturing sector. This technology has captured the imagination of the general public and manufacturing executives alike.
AM refers to a class of manufacturing processes based on the building of a solid object from 3D computer model data by joining materials, usually layer upon layer.
AM technology has evolved so much in recent years, to the point where it can now produce components made of metals, mixed materials, plastics and even human tissue. The benefits of 3D printing include shorter lead times, improved quality and reduced waste, flexibility and cost savings.
Technological advances in this field are itself spurring manufacturing. It involves designing new feedstock materials used for 3D printers similar to inks used in conventional printers; building advanced and customized 3D printers with entirely new capabilities; and using state-of-the-art metal AM machines for new applications.
If proof were needed of the rise in popularity, in 2014 3D printing registered a compound annual growth rate of 34.9 %, the highest in 17 years. According to the Wohlers Report 2014 – the reference on the AM industry’s progress – the industrial and business machines sectors make the most use of the technology with an 18.5 % market share, followed by electronic goods, motor vehicles and medical devices. Aerospace is another sector to watch and companies such as Airbus are using AM processes to produce complex metal parts for next-generation aircraft.
As fast as the technology is growing and improving, there are three things that are still needed from today’s 3D technology. The first is a greater variety of materials prepared for automated processes which will enable an increase in the width and depth of product range. Next is industrial-scale customization to achieve required volumes and speed of production. Finally, an improvement is needed in overall quality of the finished product. Most recently, improvements have allowed for AM parts to be considered more often and in critical sectors (ex. medical and aviation), but quality and consistency remain troublesome for widespread application.
Historically, 3D printing has been slow, but that may be changing. A Silicon Valley startup called Carbon3D Inc. has developed a 3D printing technology that “enables objects to rise from a liquid media continuously rather than being built layer-by-layer as they have been for the past 25 years, representing a fundamentally new approach to 3D printing. The technology allows ready-to-use products to be made 25 to 100 times faster than other methods and creates previously unachievable geometries that open opportunities for innovation not only in health care and medicine, but also in other major industries such as automotive and aviation.” [“Researchers collaborate to develop revolutionary 3D printing technology,” R&D Magazine, 17 March 2015]
New manufacturing, AM, will create new types of jobs. We can only imagine what these jobs will be and what new industries will emerge. The one thing we can be sure about is that AM will require a workforce with much different skills and education than what was required for the manufacturing jobs of yesteryear. Tomorrow’s manufacturing workforce will have to be prepared to do new jobs that are less mechanical and, instead, require creativity and thought.
In the future, major changes must be made in education and training to prepare that workforce. The answer may ultimately include collaboration between local educators, employers, and government. It will involve revamping K-12 education through graduate school with an innovative educational platform. Industry as well as government must commit funds to training the next generation of manufacturers.
The technology will be here soon. Will you be ready?
Stephanie is a Tax Manager at Keiter. Her areas of expertise include tax consulting, compliance and research for high net worth individuals, partnerships, and closely held multi-state corporations. Stephanie also has experience with a wide variety of industries including transportation services, real estate development, and construction.
The information contained within this article is provided for informational purposes only and is current as of the date published. Online readers are advised not to act upon this information without seeking the service of a professional accountant, as this article is not a substitute for obtaining accounting, tax, or financial advice from a professional accountant.