Airbus is also using 3D printed thermoplastics to create tools to aid in assembly, such as drilling guides, jigs and a simple hand tool to install hydraulic pipes into an aircraft. "Tooling on the manufacturing floor is currently one the largest growth areas" for fused deposition modeling, says Cobb.
IT end game
So what does it all mean for IT? As 3D printing becomes a disruptive technology in design and manufacturing throughout the supply chain, IT will be a key enabler. "The CIO will be absolutely critical to the success of advanced manufacturing in the enterprise," Betza says.
"When you go from prototype printing to printing of high-value, critical items, the IT environment must be more robust in terms of security and the quality of systems," says DeFelice. "You're going to see complex integrations of hardware and software that interface with ERP, with quality systems and logistics. There are a host of new problems that need to be solved by IT that haven't been looked at yet."
CIOs should respond by embracing engineering and manufacturing as a core part of their mission — and starting a dialog, says Betzer. "IT needs to be an intimate partner with those two disciplines for the enterprise to be successful."
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