Is 3D printing manufacturing's new tomorrow?
By tomorrow and a day–give or take a few decades.
Recently, many of our clients have asked us what impact 3D printing will have on industrial real estate demand, and our answer is this: Nothing material yet, but who knows what the long-term future holds?
When compared to other manufacturing methods, 3D printing is more or less a cottage industry since it is slow and complicated. A typical product can take a day or longer to produce and can be fairly labor intensive. 3D printers are also very expensive.
3D printing generally falls within one of two categories: "pure plays" and "additive manufacturing."
Pure plays are generally consumer–oriented and include small items such as toys and tech accessories. Medical-related items such as prosthetic limbs and hearing aids can also be grouped into this category.
Additive manufacturing or "rapid prototyping" is where we are seeing some of the most interesting aspects. Many companies are now beginning to use 3D printers to create prototypes. GE Aviation, for instance, has 34 industrial printers to manufacture key parts for its next-generation jet engines, while Ford Motor Company is testing parts of new cars.
An automotive engine prototype, 3D printed from sand-based material, costs just $3,000 to make and is available in four days, according to Ford Motor Company. Until the advent of the 3D process, a similar "old school" prototype would cost $500,000 and took several months to create.
Traditional manufacturing is built around achieving economies of scale with both materials and labor, and, for the past twenty years, U.S. mass production has generally been outsourced to low-cost countries such as China, India and Southeast Asia.
3D printing, as it stands today, is more about custom products versus mass production.
In terms of the global supply chain, 3D production means shorter lead times and lower transportation costs for certain custom built products. Even as print times decrease, outputs increase and unit costs decline, it is uncertain that 3D printing will ever reach a level of scale as to significantly impact logistics and industrial real estate markets.
In a best case scenario, there may be some influence in certain U.S. manufacturing space needs, especially in tech hubs such as Silicon Valley; North Carolina and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Where it may get really interesting and profoundly change how consumer products reach the local consumer is this: Imagine a 3D printer in every home building products ordered online!
The bottom line for now is we do not, at least for today, foresee a meaningful supply and demand impact on logistics and industrial markets.
For your future reference, access this Industrial Impact graphic and paper PDF using the links below.
3D printing's role in manufacturing
View the full-size graphic
Is 3D printing manufacturing's new tomorrow?By tomorrow and a day–give or take a few decades.
We look at hot trends in industrial real estate every few months.
See more from our IndustrialImpact series.
Our Industrial and Logistics professionals understand the current business environment and offer innovative, profitable strategies for all areas of industrial real estate.
Learn more about our Industrial and Logistics services.
We create a clear competitive advantage for our clients by utilizing up-to-date data, market intelligence, and innovative thinking from across the U.S., and around the world.
Explore our research