3D printing: Innovation or disruption?

3D printing has been hailed as the single most important innovation of the next global industrial revolution. The technology works by designing layers of a three-dimensional object on a computer and ‘printing’ the model with a manufacturing machine to produce a tangible object; opening endless possibilities for its use. Our team of engineers have looked into how 3D printing may innovate or create a disruption across the manufacturing sector.

In the 1980s, 3D printing was originally designed for model making and rapid prototyping, with applications focused on tool and mould making. However, it was not until the last decade that materials and computer models were advanced enough to produce effective end-parts. The industry is now worth an estimated £1.6 billion and with machine prices continuing to fall, the appeal of mass customisation, reduced environmental impact and enhanced design freedom means 3D printing has been adopted by a wide range of sectors, including creative, aerospace, medical, and automotive [1].

What’s the impact so far?

Bespoke printing at home would allow cost effective, personalised and efficient product consumption through a reduced supply chain. However, the regulations and enforcement online still need to be developed for 3D technology.

Intellectual property law and security approval for 3D designs have also been brought into the spotlight, raising the question of how to prevent printing the components of a weapon in addition to the weapon itself.

How has 3D printing impacted companies as well as consumers?
  • BAE systems has created missing parts for their aeroplanes’ windows with 3D printers set to replace traditional injection moulding techniques. [2].
  • Adidas is aiming to return manufacturing to the west with perfectly-fitting shoes for each individual. They intend to achieve this through development of their 3D manufacturing site, which is forecast to quadruple sales to $26 billion in 2026. [3].
  • Ford has piloted the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer to create high performance car components and personalised car parts. [4].
  • Within the medical industry, 3D printing has been used to create organs at the University of Edinburgh.
The common theme with all these examples is that they are low-volume, unique products designed for a specific purpose. However, for 3D printing to have a major impact on industry the technology needs to develop the capability for high-volume production.

Barriers to adoption

The UK government has worked to address this and between 2012 and 2016 there was a 100% increase in research funding from £15 million to £30 million through funding programs such as Innovate UK [5]. Our team of engineers, software programmers and scientists as well as specialist finance professionals are able to claim R&D tax relief on behalf of our clients.  Since the scheme began in 2000 our team has successfully claimed back around £150m for our clients across all business sectors with a 100% success rate.

Skilled workforce 
Our engineers recommend that the UK must also ensure there is a skilled workforce able to meet the future demand, supporting both university research and education in schools. Involving industrial partners from an early stage will also identify skill gaps and future requirements. Furthermore, this will increase the adoption of 3D printing technology by allowing businesses to strategise for its future implementation.

Our experts recommend a range of tax approved schemes that allow businesses to incentivise their employees and upskill current workforce’s capabilities. 

If you would like more information please contact your usual Moore Stephens adviser.


[1] https://www.ibisworld.com/industry/3d-printer-manufacturing.html
[3] https://www.empa.ch/documents/56164/465108/Empa-Dossier_Additive+Manufacturing-EN.pdf/34264e78-cb69-4456-b132-35ea7a22ff47
[4] https://3dprint.com/116658/wilson-3d-files-machine-gun/

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