More than a century ago, the industrial genius of Henry Ford ushered in the era of modern manufacturing, fundamentally transforming how people around the world live, work and get around.
For generations, the principles of mass production have varied little across industries and products. But today, the manufacturing sector is at an inflection point.
This new era of transportation will be driven by three key trends.
1. Personalization. One-car-fits-most hasn't been the name of the game in the auto industry for a long time. Consumers want their cars to be seamless extensions of the rest of their lives — from integrating digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa to loading driver settings automatically based on who unlocks the door. That personalization is only accelerating thanks to advances such as 3D printing, which make it more practical — and affordable — to customize a vehicle's components to a customer's specifications.
2. Flexibility. With the rise of ride-sharing platforms, e-scooters and digitally enabled public transportation, more people are foregoing vehicle ownership entirely, especially when 35 percent of car trips are 2 miles or less. Once autonomous vehicles become commonplace, it will be even easier to choose to live without owning a personal vehicle.
3. Environmental sustainability. Globally, the transportation sector is responsible for about one-quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions; in the U.S., it's closer to 30 percent. Governments are starting to respond. Countries in Europe and Asia have announced they will ban the sale of internal combustion engines, and in some cases are providing generous subsidies to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles. One of the advantages of 3D printing is the lightweighting of parts, which gives EVs better performance and range.
Now it's time for the industry to transform the global vehicle market.
- Embrace 3D printing. Automakers from General Motors to BMW to Volkswagen to Jaguar Land Rover are using 3D printing for nonstructural elements of their vehicles. In the future, auto customers will be able to design customized, 3D- printed interiors that reflect their personalities and preferences while still maintaining the highest safety standards, creating a better driving experience for consumers and new revenue streams for automakers.
- Collaborate across industries. The most competitive auto companies will be those that build cross-industry partnerships that are responsive to the way people want to live and work. Ride-sharing platforms and digital services, for example, could grow auto industry revenues by as much as 30 percent in the coming years. Already, several car-rental companies partner with Uber and Lyft to make vehicles available at modest cost to drivers who may not own vehicles.
- Harness artificial intelligence. The rise of AI will change how vehicles are designed, manufactured and driven, generating significant opportunities across the sector — from rapid virtual prototyping that reduces costs and material waste to smarter, more energy-efficient production lines. Innovative startups such as Canoo are using the technology to vastly accelerate the design and production stages for the alpha prototype of their all-electric vehicle for city living. Auto parts manufactured with some forms of advanced 3D printing technology stand to be made more safely and at lower cost than other methods, with unused material immediately recycled on-site.