Truly embracing digital manufacturing will require change

By:  Robert Mesaros

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) last month it was unsurprising that discussions around the Fourth Industrial Revolution were again high on the agenda. This Revolution is based on the ‘fusing of the physical, digital and biological worlds’. Think intelligent robotics, mobile supercomputing and genetic editing – technologies that are transforming virtually every industry on the planet, and our society as a whole.

I have written previously about another such example: the game-changing technology of 3D printing and the potential it has to transform one of the oldest and largest industries in the world: manufacturing. The unparalleled potential of digital manufacturing – harnessing 3D printing for production at scale, not just prototyping – is beginning to materialise in many sectors, particularly heavy industry, automotive, consumer products, healthcare and aerospace.

There are countless examples of businesses who have successfully transitioned to digital manufacturing and reaped the rewards. One such example in this region is Australian manufacturer of custom orthotics, iOrthotics. Since adopting HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology the company has seen the benefits that flow from a significantly faster, more sustainable manufacturing method, producing devices that are 40-60% stronger. Most notably, iOrthotics have begun to export outside of Australia and are now supplying podiatrists around the world.

McKinsey Global Institute research predicted 3D printing could have an economic impact of up to $550 billion a year by 2025. Yet, in 2019, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of adoption.

A digital transformation in an industry as large and well-established as manufacturing is bound to face barriers, and we must face these head on. I’d like to focus on three key areas we must address to better support the transition: technology, expertise and ecosystem.


There is, frankly, some misunderstanding out there about how 3D printed materials stack up against those produced using analogue methods. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has noted that barriers to adoption of 3D printing included nervousness around quality, reliability and consistency. Greater education and exposure to the technology would go a long way to addressing these concerns. I have seen what this technology can do – it’s phenomenal! Where we do need to focus our efforts is on expanding the range of 3D printed materials available, and that is where support for innovation and collaboration is critical.


HP and A.T. Kearney research in 2018 found 3 to 5 million new jobs could be created by the emergence of 3D printing within the next ten years in the US alone – just imagine what this could indicate for Asia Pacific, where manufacturing is deeply entrenched. A focus on specialist 3D design, engineering and associated skills will ensure we continue to build a tech-savvy, upskilled global workforce that supports digital manufacturing at every level. Also critical is ensuring research to advance 3D technology, carried out in educational institutions, is properly funded.

Ecosystem: A robust, sustainable 3D printing ecosystem requires fundamental change, characterised by:

Collaboration among key players and strategic partnerships across government, industry and academia (a great example is HP’s $84m Singapore lab created in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University);

Government incentives (such as those contained within the Chinese Government’s ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative);

Rise of new business models and new supply chains, as manufacturing moves closer to the consumers it serves and focus shifts from moving physical products to moving electrons around the globe; and, Accessibility for businesses of all sizes (where the role of service bureaus is critical).

I’ll be delving into these areas over the coming weeks, and would welcome any thoughts you have on how we can better support the manufacturing industry as it moves towards a digital future. Let’s get the conversation started!


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