3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is well known for being used to make prototype parts, especially in the automotive industry, but its use in other applications is growing quickly. For example, the technology is also being tested to produce satellites, spare and hard-to-source parts for U.S. Coast Guard ships, and infrequently requested replacement parts, special parts and other parts for small quantity and classic model automobiles.


Now it seems the technology may be poised for even more widespread use. Executives from computer and printer supplier HP and consulting firm Deloitte say recent advances in the technology will prompt manufacturers to adopt it as a more economical alternative to injection molding. Toward that vision, the two companies recently announced a joint effort to develop 3D printing systems to support large-scale production.


“What we have, is an opportunity to disrupt a $12 trillion manufacturing industry,” HP President and CEO Dion Weisler said at a press conference. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. No sector of the global economy is undergoing more radical transformation than the manufacturing market. Companies investing in digital reinvention are poised to outpace their peers. Building on our disruptive 3D printing technology, together with Deloitte, we are focused on helping customers transform and win in this new era.”


HP introduced a 3D printer for industrial applications last year, and Weisler noted that 3D printing is already more cost-effective than injection molding for a limited number of manufacturing goods. He predicts that improved materials science, however, would make that number significantly larger. Indeed, HP researchers are already working with different colors, textures and conductive materials in the company’s labs.


The alliance will combine HP’s Jet Fusion 3D Printing solutions and tools, partner ecosystem and experience driving digital industrial transformations with Deloitte’s global client reach and manufacturing relationships, extensive digital operations experience and proven success in supply chain transformation for some of the world’s largest companies. The plan, execs from the two companies say, is to help companies accelerate product design and production, create more flexible manufacturing and supply chains, and enhance efficiency across the manufacturing lifecycle. Consequently, they say, companies will increase innovation, accelerate time-to-market, and reduce waste and curb excessive inventory—leading, in turn, to reduced warehouse space requirements.


“All of those things, when you combine them, enable manufacturing to happen anywhere in the world,” Weisler said. “It democratizes manufacturing.”


Officials said that although manufacturers are generally a risk-averse group, the advantages of 3D printing would become too big to ignore.


“I believe you’ll see 3D printing at scale operate, sort of like a lot of the technologies we’ve seen over the last several years, on an exponential curve,” says Deloitte Supply Chain Principal Doug Gish. “So, over the next three to five years, we really expect to see this take off.”


3D printing appears to have the potential to lower costs, increase production speed and flexibility, and, perhaps, minimize distribution borders. Do you believe, like HP and Deloitte executives, that 3D printing will help “unlock the promise” of a new global industrial revolution?