3D printing has been around for many years, but it's only now starting to reveal its potential to transform other industries besides manufacturing. The growth of 3D printing in the enterprise is set to create a new set of challenges for CIOs, as IT organisations grapple with new sources of data.
On the consumer side, 3D printing is unlikely to become a mainstream technology in the near future, Gartner analyst Pete Basiliere says.
"From a consumer perspective, 3D printers cannot do anything near what some of the hype says [they] can do and it's a much more complex process than what a 2D printer is, [so] we think it could be easily 10 or more years before it becomes mainstream," the analyst says.
However, 3D printing is already well understood within the enterprise, Basiliere adds. Even though adoption has been slow, enterprise use cases exist and will continue to drive 3D printing growth.
"The market penetration is only about 1 to 5 per cent, but it will be well accepted in mainstream within about five years," he says. Gartner predicts worldwide shipments of 3D printers will nearly double by 2015, driving down the cost of the technology.
3D printing is a data-heavy technology, and capturing, managing and analysing this data will be the role of enterprise IT, says Jason Bender, partner at Deloitte Digital.
"There might be a significant amount more data that can be captured through the 3D printer, sensors and the ERP system," Bender says.
"With 3D printing you have the opportunity to observe the manufacture of the part during the process over time and can actually do a lot more optical measurement [than with conventional manufacturing]," he adds.
"You can start to capture lots of data about every production. For example, if you make 100,000 units you can record lots of data points about how the part was made, temperature of the head that's printing, the components of the material, the batch numbers, etc.
"By performing analytics on the logged data matched with other production information -- date/time, operator, environmental data, production yield, defects and field data -- manufacturers could identify any batch problems for further analysis, rectification or recall."
With 3D printing, an engineer has the potential to do more careful monitoring of parts as they are being made, Bender says. This means there are fewer chances of defects.
"With 3D printing you have the opportunity to observe the manufacture of the part during the process over time and can actually do a lot more optical measurement.
"Sensors can record information such as temperature, pressure, humidity which will affect the solidification of the part. The process can be recorded with video cameras for review and analysis. And images can be captured throughout the process and compared with baseline templates to ensure the part is to specification, and that there are missing/malformed structures.
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