The means of production is changing and so is the outlook among American manufacturers. In this featured blog post, a FATHOMer takes a look at the most recent Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey by National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Released last month, the report notes record-high levels of optimism among the survey’s respondents—and, on closer examination, provides insight into how 3D printing and additive manufacturing can become an effective solution for addressing certain obstacles that pose a dilemma for even the healthiest companies.
OUTLOOK ON MANUFACTURING
On average, 93.3% of small, medium, and large manufacturers characterized their company’s outlook as “somewhat or very positive,” the highest rate recorded since the quarterly survey began in 1997. Across the manufacturing sector, the report predicts increased growth rates for sales, production, employment, and capital investment budgets—along with prices and costs—over the next 12 months.
The NAM report discusses some common factors and challenges cited by the four out of five respondents who expect to either maintain or increase capital spending rates over 2016. Chief among those factors was an increased demand for products, followed closely by rising interest in incorporating new innovations or technology into existing processes—a sentiment echoed in research by Pete Basiliere. “Gartner research found that 65% of supply chain professionals are using or will invest in 3D printing over the next 2 years as they recognize its ability to produce product and augment manufacturing operations.” Taken together, these data points may indicate that the trend of rising interest in additive manufacturing is poised to convert from exploration to action in 2017.
MAKING A CASE FOR ENTERPRISE 3D PRINTING
A large proportion—nearly 40%—of the survey responses came from companies working with plastics, rubber and fabricated metal products, who commented on the difficulty of hiring a reliable workforce, especially qualified machinists. According to comments included with the report, some manufacturers see capital investment as necessary to compensate for a lack of available skilled labor and engineering. Manufacturers may find that innovative new equipment is most beneficial when it increases their capacity for automated, hands-off productivity. For many, direct digital manufacturing (DDM) will be the solution to meeting rising customer demand when increasing throughput cannot be accomplished by traditional means.
Though the NAM report does not discuss additive manufacturing specifically, the trends and comments highlighted paint a picture of an economic sector ready to embrace new solutions to existing bottlenecks. As the health and confidence of American manufacturing firms grows, so too will their ability to take advantage of the increased automation, lowered costs, and better productivity afforded by 3D printing.