Dozens of companies today are using additive manufacturing systems in production scenarios to build hundreds – even thousands – of parts at a time.

3D-printing materials are curing at higher speeds, leading to faster production times. Additionally, additive manufacturers have a greater design freedom and can create customized versions of existing products.

Many organizations, however, still see the technology as a tool used solely for prototyping.

In a webinar this week titled From Prototyping to Factory 4.0, analysts from the Framingham, MA-based market intelligence firm IDC reviewed the value propositions for additive manufacturing.

Following the presentation, a reader had the following question for the speakers:

You mentioned that the top challenge of adoption is getting beyond prototyping. Why do organizations struggle to see 3D printing or additive manufacturing for more than prototyping? And what do you think can be done to help them get beyond that level?

Read the edited response below.

Tim Greene, IDC; Research Director – Hardcopy Solutions: I really think it’s a dated perception. Unquestionably additive manufacturing is fantastic for prototyping, but companies that need to produce jobs or product lots of several hundred, several thousand, or several tens of thousands, are maybe looking at an older prototyping solution and saying, “That’s just too slow.”

What’s needed is to look at modern 3D printing technology, to see how there are opportunities to use it for something that is much more like production. There are literally dozens of companies that have set up and configured 3D printers.

A 3D printer is a short-run manufacturing cell. They are allowed to run 24/7. They’re always on. They’re producing hundreds and thousands of parts right now with those solutions. And they’re doing it right now: Making better, faster, smarter parts, more economically, closer to the point of use.

I think we’re just at the tip of the spear in terms of adoption for real production. In some industries, the opportunities are tremendous. Your focus could be on growing top-line revenue through adding personalized products. Your focus could be on cost reduction, by moving where you manufacture something, so you’re able to respond to customer requirements faster. The priorities may be different, but those two main goals are completely achievable, now much more so than even just a couple years ago. The market is moving so quickly. I would say: Get out there to some trade shows, talk to your vendor partners, and talk to some people who are really doing it, because there are people who are definitely really doing it.

Keith Kmetz, IDC; Program Vice President – Imaging, Printing & Document Solutions Programs: I think the challenge is, quite frankly, that sometimes it is just hard for people to change. You may be perceiving that your process isn’t broke: “We’re not experiencing a pain point, so I’m not willing to move it to the next stage."

Your competitors, however, are going to start moving to this digital transformation technology: 3D printing. And they’re moving quickly. You could be at a competitive disadvantage if you’re not at least considering it, evaluating it, and going through the decision-making process that you need in order to determine: “Is this something we need to take beyond prototyping and into other kinds of applications?”

There’s a lot to evaluate in this process: You need to examine the cost, the run rates for different types of jobs, the speed requirements, and so forth. The good news: If you’re not experiencing the pain points, or you if don’t feel the process is broken, well, you have an opportunity to explore and determine if you can gain an advantage from utilizing this technology beyond prototyping. Many companies who have taken that leap, who have taken the chance, are getting significant financial and productivity benefits out of doing so.

Have you used additive manufacturing beyond prototyping? Share tips of your own in the comments section below.