New GAO Report on Opportunities, Challenges, and Policy Implications of Additive Manufacturing
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report (GAO-15-505SP) last week entitled “3D Printing: Opportunities, Challenges, and Policy Implications of Additive Manufacturing” containing highlights from an additive manufacturing forum convened by the Comptroller General of the United States.
The report contains an excellent synopsis of the technologies, as well as the considerations, issues and potential challenges affecting more widespread application. A few key highlights include:
· “Additive manufacturing—also known as three-dimensional (3D) printing—has the potential to fundamentally change the structure and management of supply chains and the production and distribution of goods.
· “As the technology has matured, the use of additive manufacturing has become more widespread. Additive manufacturing has been used as a design and prototyping tool since its inception, but the focus of additive manufacturing is now shifting to the production of functional parts and products…”
· “Additive manufacturing has existed for decades, but is now receiving increased attention because of its potential to transform the manufacturing industry and how goods are produced, distributed, and sold to consumers. For instance, additive manufacturing could make existing product supply chains more efficient by allowing for more on demand production, which could reduce the need to maintain large product inventories and spare parts, and allow for the localized production of goods closer to consumers.”
· “Additive manufacturing holds the potential for disrupting existing and creating new markets, but the technology is in its relative infancy and it may be years or decades before it reaches levels of confidence comparable to what the industry has with the more familiar conventional manufacturing processes and materials.”
· “…could be significant problems with poorly manufactured functional parts, particularly those used for safety-critical applications, such as parts for aircraft or medical products. Nevertheless, the potential benefits of using additive manufacturing for part design and production include the ability to fabricate more complex shapes, reduced manufacturing cycle times, costs, and supply chain risks, and more efficient use of manufacturing materials, which could potentially reduce waste in the manufacturing process and its resulting environmental effects.”
· “… role of government policy making for additive manufacturing needs to be better understood. Determining that role will require a better understanding of the opportunities afforded by additive manufacturing for functional part production and the challenges currently faced.”
· “…as the use of additive manufacturing increases, particularly for safety-critical parts and products, it will be important to understand any potential concerns it raises.”
· “… existing design and analytical tools combined with an insufficiently skilled workforce could limit the use of additive manufacturing and its ability to reach its potential for greater innovation.”
· “Participants…emphasized the value of developing a skilled workforce capable of thinking differently about design to take full advantage of additive manufacturing…Participants noted that retraining the manufacturing workforce to think differently about design will be an important part of building skills, including retraining experienced engineers who may be challenged by changes in traditional methods.”
· …government consumers, such as DOD and NASA, have specialized missions with unique product reliability requirements. Both agencies are interested in the potential use of additive manufacturing, but using additively manufactured products in their missions will be challenging because they require assurances of both the consistency and quality of any products they use.”
· “… liability law historically has adapted to new situations as they have emerged, but that policymakers should be prepared to make changes if problems arise.”
· “Forum participants also discussed the potential risk for infringement of intellectual property rights with regard to additive manufacturing equipment, design files, and product manufacturers. They said it is possible that an increased use of additive manufacturing and digital design files could lead to disputes between additive manufacturing users and intellectual property holders.”