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Gartner Predicts 2018: 3D Printing Changes Business Models

by Pete Basiliere  |  December 12, 2017  |  Submit a Comment

Organizations are using 3DP to change their business models. It changes many of the calculations that have been made around specialty manufacturing. 3DP may never be as efficient as a three-story stamping press at banging out ribbons of metal into panels, but, in one shot, 3D printers can form complex — indeed impossible-to-make — parts that a press could never solve.

Our Predicts research highlights three industries — medical devices, aircraft and consumer goods — that are making significant strides in implementing advanced manufacturing practices enabled by 3DP. To a significant extent, the experiences of these industries can be applied to all manufacturing industries.

Prediction: By 2021, 75% of new commercial and military aircraft will fly with 3D-printed engine, airframe and other components.

The aerospace industry was one of the first industries to adopt 3DP. Plagued by long product design and development timelines, aerospace manufacturers in the commercial and military markets were early testbeds of aircraft models and components. While prototyping remains the dominant use case for 3DP in all industries, aerospace has aggressively moved to also use 3D printed tools, jigs, fixtures and finished goods. For example:

  • After 20 years of use, Boeing has additive manufacturing at 20 sites in four countries and more than 50,000 3D-printed parts are flying on both commercial and defense programs.
  • GE Aviation’s new Advanced Turboprop engine design converted 855 conventionally manufactured parts into 12 3D-printed parts, resulting in 10% more horsepower, 20% fuel savings, a shorter development cycle and lower design costs (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. GE Aviation’s Advanced Turboprop Engine

ATP 35






Source: GE Aviation

Prediction: By 2021, 25% of surgeons will practice on 3D-printed models of the patient prior to surgery.

Hospitals and specialty laboratories have increased the level of investment in 3DP hardware, software and services that integrate medical imaging, CAD and 3DP workflow software.Gartner estimates that nearly 3% of large hospitals and medical research institutions have 3DP capabilities on site.

Figure 2. 3D Printed Surgical Model of Child’s External Brain Matter









Source: Katherine C. Cohen/Boston Children’s Hospital

As 3DP technologies improve and the other technologies become more refined, 3DP as a COE will spread from teaching hospitals and specialty centers into the broader hospital system. One example is Boston Children’s Hospital, where they take a team approach to training and surgical planning. Clinicians, industrial engineers, designers, simulation experts, illustrators and patient care teams are all involved. As more 3DP capabilities come online, Gartner expects surgeons and medical staff to increase the demand for 3DP capabilities to be delivered in “turnkey” fashion. 3DP will move from obscure back-office labs more into the forefront as part of a strategy to improve surgical training and simulations.

Prediction: By 2021, 20% of the world’s top 100 consumer goods companies will use 3D printing to create custom products.

Rapid product prototyping is the biggest and most expansive 3DP use case for consumer goods companies. Companies as wide-ranging as Fishman (guitar amplification devices) and Unilever (household products) are already using 3DP to substantially reduce design to production times and to save money. But rapid prototyping is not the only relevant use case.

3DP is also likely to have a large impact on consumer goods company supply chains. In categories where specific customization is fundamental to the product delivery, inventories could be reduced, and costs and production could be shifted closer to the end customer. This shift to “local production for local consumption” would enable consumer goods companies to rethink their business models. For example, a company named Raceware creates custom bike parts using 3DP.

It is unlikely that additive manufacturing or 3DP will ever completely supplant mass production in any consumer goods market subsector. In fact, there are many product categories where we would expect its use to range from a very low-level penetration to no practical use cases of 3DP whatsoever. Organizations must learn to make the cost-benefit trade-offs for where and when 3DP makes sense compared with conventional manufacturing technologies.

Prediction: By 2021, 20% of enterprises will establish internal startups to develop new 3D print-based products and services.

Business now moves at lightning speed, and technology moves even faster. Established companies constantly face competition from startups and emerging companies. To even the playing field with these fast-moving companies, organizations must set up an internal startup to help fast-track 3DP and other innovative technologies into the company’s business.

Figure 3. BASF’s 3D-Printed Thermoplastic Airless Tire Concept

BASF Airless Tire Concept







Source: BASF

Over the last few years, a handful of larger enterprise engineering organizations, such as Airbus, BASF and GE have established industrial-scale 3DP internal startups. The companies are able to speed up the integration of 3DP into their own manufacturing processes for parts that are either too difficult or too costly to make using conventional manufacturing methods. The concept of an internal startup for 3DP is rapidly gaining traction and will become very common in the coming years. An internal startup enables companies to focus some of their brightest minds on 3DP innovation, while protecting their existing revenue streams from disruption.

Prediction: By 2021, 40% of manufacturing enterprises will establish 3D printing centers of excellence (COE).

Many Gartner clients in the enterprise manufacturing space have already implemented 3DP somewhere in their value chain. In most cases, the engineering functions within either R&D or manufacturing have made the larger internal 3DP capital investments while simultaneously improving their ability to leverage external on-demand service capabilities via their networks of partners.

Over the last few years, a handful of larger enterprise engineering organizations have established industrial-scale 3DP COEs (for example, Boeing, Johnson & Johnson, Rolls Royce and Siemens). While doing so, they have integrated 3DP-related workflows into key business processes. The benefit of a COE is to better refine existing 3DP methodologies and operationalize 3DP technologies while creating metrics to focus on improvements to design innovation, standardization on key processes, and focus on improvement to quality and inspection processes. A 3D print COE also serves as a training facility or an experience center for supply chain partners, as well as groups within the business.

Midsize enterprise manufacturers are beginning to follow suit in COE establishment, but with smaller investments. These companies tend to outsource 3DP services, as both the capital costs and specialized labor required are often too large a barrier to justify the program.

The long-term goal of a 3DP COE is to become a seamless part of the design and manufacturing process. When successful, the COE has broad implications on use of 3DP in the design, manufacturing and maintenance of products.

3D printing enables organizations to shift from designing for ideal manufacturing to manufacturing the ideal design. With the shift will come changes to your business model.


This blog post is excerpted from Gartner’s 17-page report, with expanded market implications and recommendations, Predicts 2018: 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing.

Additional Resources

Category: 3d-printing  additive-manufacturing  

Tags: 3-d-print  3d-print  3d-print-service-bureaus  3d-printer  3dp  additive-manufacturing  advanced-turboprop  airbus  apworks  basf  boeing  boston-childrens-hospital  business-model  center-of-excellence  cessna  computer-aided-design  ge  ge-aviation  internal-startup  medical-devices  rd  raceware  

Pete Basiliere
Research Vice President
12 years at Gartner
18 years IT Industry

Mr. Basiliere provides research-based insights on 3D printing and digital printing hardware, software and materials. Mr. Basiliere's Maverick research coined the term Generation AI, people born after 2010 who will not know a world without application intelligence in their lives. Read Full Bio

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