Agile Manufacturing to Consolidate Around the 3 D Platform Providers

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3-D printers (“Additive manufacturing”) in the United States are already producing one-third the volume of industrial automation and robotic sales. Some projections have that figure rising to 42% by 2020.[1] The ability to produce customized products in an “Agile” fashion is making a significant impact on not just small to medium size manufacturing but also to large, sophisticated manufacturing such as aerospace and auto industries. Indeed, most companies will follow as the range of printable materials continues to expand. In addition to basic plastics and photosensitive resins, these already include ceramics, cement, glass, numerous metals and metal alloys, and new thermoplastic composites. Although the direct costs of producing goods with these new methods and materials are often higher, the greater flexibility afforded by additive manufacturing means that total costs can be substantially lower.[2]


Additive manufacturing doesn’t offer anything like that economy of scale of let’s say injection molders for specific products. However, it avoids the downside of standard manufacturing—a lack of flexibility. That’s why 3-D printing has been so valuable for producing one-offs such as prototypes and rare replacement parts. But additive manufacturing increasingly makes sense even at a larger scale.

Controlling the Additive Manufacturing Ecosystem

According to HBR, management leaders should consider the strategic implications as whole commercial ecosystems begin to form around the promises of 3-D printing. Platforms will allow agile manufacturers to quickly modify designs, customize and organize and manage inventory and supply chain requirements. Industry analysts have pointed out the potential for large numbers of the manufacturing sector to atomize into an untold number of small custom fabricators.  But the major players are considering the strategy that successful platform providers will prosper by establishing standards and providing the capability in which a complex ecosystem can coordinate responses to market demands.

Agile Additive manufacturing technology allows manufacturers to hollow out a part to make it lighter and more fuel-efficient and incorporate internal structures that provide greater tensile strength, durability, and resistance to impact. The implication is that managers in companies of all kinds should be working to anticipate how their businesses will adapt to the disruption to business as usual. Moreover, those companies that control the digital ecosystem will sit in the middle of a tremendous volume of industrial transactions, collecting and selling valuable information. They will engage in arbitrage and divide the work up among trusted parties or assign it in-house when appropriate.[3] Like commodities arbitrageurs, they will finance trades or buy low and sell high with the asymmetric information they gain from overseeing millions of transactions. In essence, then, the owners of printer-based manufacturing assets will compete with the owners of information for the profits generated by the digital ecosystem.


[2] ibid

[3] ibid


Additional Reading

Operational Excellence for Agile and Adaptive Companies

Disruptive manufacturing-The effects of 3D printing

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