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What’s Missing? 3D Print Workflow Software

by Pete Basiliere  |  October 2, 2016  |  1 Comment

Workflow software is a critical missing link for fully exploiting 3D printers in manufacturing, service bureau, government and education organizations. 3D printing demand is accelerating but the lack of workflow software inhibits more rapid market development, especially for industrial scale applications.

Managing a 3D print workflow was not an issue when organizations had one 3D printer attached to one PC or workstation. Today, however, internal print shops and 3D print service bureaus have multiple printers and multiple clients and the number of 3D print jobs is much higher and growing rapidly.

Enterprises and educational institutions often have numerous 3D printers, sometimes centralized, and sometimes dispersed. Manufacturing operations groups and others are rapidly introducing 3D printers in environments with conventional machinery and assembly processes.

Type A Manufacturing Pod

type-a-machines-printpod

Source: Type A Machines

My colleague Nigel Montgomery and I found that a critical missing piece in the burgeoning 3D print production space is workflow software to manage the life cycle process, including order entry, tracking, reprints, costing and archiving of 3D printed items. These are already becoming challenges for in-plant and for-pay 3D print operations.

3D print workflow software includes the applications that organizations employ to manage the sequence of administrative and production processes used to build 3D-printed items. Organizations use these applications to manage their internal operations and to produce customer orders. 3D print workflow software features include estimating, pricing, capacity planning, scheduling, order entry, production and quality assurance data collection, costing, billing and archiving.

In other words, 3D printing workflow software facilitates the activities that are required to manage a 3D printing environment. The software may be purpose-built to manage the entire workflow or unique elements specific to 3D printing processes may be incorporated into manufacturing executions system (MES) software.

Siemens 3D Printing Facility in Sweden

siemens-enters-industrial-metal-3d-printing-first-metal-am-facility-sweden

Source: 3Ders.org

Two types of 3D print workflow software are currently in use: tools designed for environments that only use 3D printers, and modifications to manufacturing execution software to support 3D printers alongside traditional manufacturing techniques. That said:

  • Fewer than ten providers offer commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) 3D print workflow software tools today
  • Whether using commercially available software or building your own, we have identified 34 key capabilities needed to avoid incurring significant costs and creating capacity issues.

That said, we do expect the number of 3D print workflow software providers to grow to 20 vendors within five years. The providers will come from a variety of sources:

  • Enterprise application software providers such as SAP (which is developing tools for UPS to use in its FastRadius 3D printing operation).
  • MES software providers that adapt existing tools to the common and unique requirements of 3D printers operating in production environments.
  • 2D print management information systems providers such as Avanti and EFI that have provided workflow software to the commercial printing industries for over a decade.
  • New specialist providers that focus on 3D printer-only production environments.

Given the current state of the market, anyone interested in 3D print workflow software must:

  • Incorporate 3D print workflow software into the installation planning processes where multiple 3D printers are required or when 3D printers are used in manufacturing operations alongside traditional assets/machinery
  • Utilize custom software to temporarily fill functional gaps ahead of robust, proven, commercially available software.
  • Ensure our 34 key capabilities and features are built into 3D print workflow software solutions, regardless of any “make versus buy” decision.

Our research illuminates the need, highlights the few providers in the current market, and recommends specific features that should be extant in commercially available 3D print workflow software packages or to be included in a custom built/proprietary one.

Please visit the Gartner website to access our ten page report, with the 34 key capabilities and features and current workflow software providers: Innovation Insight for 3D Print Workflow Software.

Category: 3d-printing  digital-marketing  trends-predictions  

Tags: 3-d-print  3d-print  3d-print-service-bureaus  3d-print-workflow  3d-print-workflow-software  3d-printer  additive-manufacturing  avanti  cad  computer-aided-design  efi  fastradius  sap  siemens  type-a-machines  ups  

Pete Basiliere
Research Vice President
10 years at Gartner
16 years IT Industry

Mr. Basiliere provides research-based insights on 3D printing, digital printing systems and software applications, customer communications management (CCM), strategic document outsourcing (SDO) and automated document factory (ADF) best practices, go-to-market strategies, and technology trends. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on What’s Missing? 3D Print Workflow Software


  1. Danniel Gery says:

    Nice post on 3D Print Workflow Software. 3D printing demand is accelerating but the lack of workflow software inhibits more rapid market development, especially for industrial scale applications. Managing a 3D print workflow was not an issue when organizations had one 3D printer attached to one PC or workstation. Today, however, internal print shops and 3D print service bureaus have multiple printers and multiple clients and the number of 3D print jobs is much higher and growing rapidly.A few months ago, I took the services from Iannone 3D, which provides Professional 3D Printing Services in the New Jersey area. Thanks for sharing.



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