3D Printing: What should CIOs do?

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Guest post by Mark Thut and Vinod Baya

Innovation initiatives and interest in 3D printing are at an all-time high. In our recent analysis we forecast that 3D printing will change the game when it pivots from prototyping to producing finished products or product components. When 3D printing is ready for prime time, how will the responsibilities of the CIO change and what can CIOs do to fuel the 3D printing ambitions of their enterprises?

3D printing is transitioning from interesting novelty to legitimate manufacturing technology. As 3D printing becomes established, design and manufacturing processes become more digital, virtualized and information driven. As a result, the CIO’s influence, responsibility and expectations will shift. CIOs will need to be more deeply involved in enabling and supporting design and manufacturing processes than in the past. CIOs will need to contend with the impact across many domains.

3D printing will likely compress the idea-to-realization cycle as many intermediary functions are automated, reconfigured, transformed, or deemed unnecessary. For instance, tooling and assembly planning will be greatly reduced if the full assembly is printed as a single product. The end-to-end process can be radically simplified with fewer systems and steps while capturing the necessary data to maintain compliance and to run the business. CIOs can also plan for the simplification of the overall architecture and number of systems used in supporting the business.

Speed of Business
3D printing can be a catalyst for acceleration of the pace of innovation. New ideas can be prototyped quickly, manufactured in small batches for testing, brought to market quickly, all making it possible for the business to change faster than before. The manufacturing process and associated lead times will no longer be barriers to business changes. CIOs will need to ensure that the clock speed of their systems and development methods do not become bottlenecks for the pace of innovation. Methods such as DevOps and agile development are emerging methods for IT to match the speed of business innovation.

For most enterprises, 3D printing will complement rather than replace traditional methods of manufacturing. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, enterprises will manage hybrid manufacturing environments that combine additive and subtractive methods. CIOs should evolve the systems architecture and operations to support these hybrid operations.

Data and Analytics
3D printing will surface new types of data not yet collected in manufacturing. For instance, data can be collected for each individual layer during the build of the product. This data becomes a resource to analyze the quality of the product as well as the effectiveness of the operations in real-time. CIOs will need to plan for adequate data collection systems and real-time analytics tools to provide necessary feedback upstream or downstream in the process.

Although 3D printing is a new method to manufacture products, its implications are likely to extend to other areas. In fact, early adopters are finding that 3D printing’s impact extends beyond manufacturing to the transformation of the internal and external value chains spanning design, planning, production and more. With their expertise in integrating end-to-end processes, CIOs can bring a unique perspective to the transformation of these value chains and processes.

What do you think CIOs should be doing now and in the near future to adapt to 3D printing? Your ideas and thoughts are welcome in the comments section.

Image shared by Maurizio Pesce

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