How 3D printing is moving into the CIO’s agenda

Frank ThewihsenBy Frank Thewihsen, Partner, Advisory, Ernst & Young GmbH Wirtschaftsprüfungsgesellschaft.

Additive manufacturing, better known in the market as 3D printing (3DP), has been evolving over the past 30 years and is now largely being adopted by an increasing number of major companies. Adoption rates are increasing as companies are realizing the benefits of 3DP, with the quality and availability of printing materials improving all the time.

Aerospace companies and the high-tech industry have been at the forefront of using the advantages of 3DP, but there are other early adopters that benefit from the technology, such as the health care industry. For example, 3DP can enable a more patient-centric approach through the customization of prosthetics and dentistry, and by enabling bio-printing, where scientists print human-sized bones, cartilage and teeth implants. Experts from the World Economic Forum even predict that, by 2024, it will be possible to print usable human organs, which will revolutionize lives.

The potential benefits of 3DP are manifold and can include some, or all, of the following:

  • A reduced time to market and shortened product development design cycle
  • Reduced process time via improved tools, less waste, fewer production or assembly steps and reduced lead time via functional integration of parts
  • More flexible maintenance processes, lower maintenance costs and cost-efficient industrial engineering
  • Reduced inventory and logistics handling, transportation and related costs
  • Flexibility in delivery of spare parts, reduced costs of spare parts production and after-market care

Business trends are driving increasing adoption
As mentioned above, 3DP printing has been around for a while. So why is it emerging as a hot topic now? There are a number of trends that influence and increase the adoption of 3DP.

Firstly, individualization and customer co-creation are hot topics in the market. Want to personalize your sneakers? No problem: the 3DP industry has enabled manufacturers to print parts as close to the time of assembly as possible, which allows for a reduction in inventory and the possibility of producing many more product types.

Secondly, innovation and development in larger groups of people are crucial. The 3DP technology makes it possible for individuals or collaborative teams to manufacture end products with fewer barriers to innovation. For example, for intra-company collaboration, design teams can “fax” their parts across the world so that other teams can continue working on them.

Lastly, the performance of 3D printers and materials have significantly improved in terms of speed, quality, available materials and cost. Therefore, business cases for serial production — far beyond solely prototyping — are more favorable now for 3DP technology.

How does this new manufacturing technology create challenges for a CIO?
Looking into the many potential benefits of 3DP, as well as the trends driving adoption right now, why aren’t all organizations on their way to implementing it? Well, there are some key concerns that can stand in the way of organizations’ 3DP ambitions. And, while CIOs don’t seem to be the obvious candidates to influence the production technology, they can still help resolve some of the challenges:

  • IP and data protection: Historically, production often took place in-house, and CIOs had to create the necessary IT environment for it. In today’s 3DP scenario, manufacturing and printing can happen at different places – in-house, in a printing bureau or at client side. Therefore, public access to blueprints raises copyright and intellectual property (IP) concerns. CIOs at the “sending,” but also at the “receiving,” end can help put systems in place that ensure IP and data protection, and secure original product quality without the risk of any digital manipulation of the product.
  • Setting the scene for success: While choosing the core 3DP technology is not a task for the CIO, they still need to have a say in deciding how printers can be connected within the company and to the outside world, and what base prerequisites need to be fulfilled before a new production technology can be deployed.
  • Quality control: With current laws clearly out of sync with this rapidly emerging technology, 3DP leads to many unanswered questions around liability. Engineers and CIOs contribute to standardizing quality control mechanisms across production processes, ensuring close cooperation with 3DP systems providers and printing bureaus.

For the CIO, 3DP is an inevitable emerging area of focus. And, even if core 3DP technology might be out of the scope of the CIO, the information and information security-related aspects are not. It is important, therefore, that the CIO works with engineers and product development staff on the information risk-related aspects of 3DP, in order to make the transition smooth and its continued implementation successful.

To learn more about 3DP, take a look at this recently issued EY report at

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