Fortune 500 and Additive Manufacturing


Aya Bentur  

Under the hood of the GE9X Engine

When new technologies are adopted, especially manufacturing technologies, it is often an industry-wide adoption started by the more cutting edge companies in the industry and spreading from there. Similarly, technology adoption spreads from industry to industry. Additive manufacturing (AM) is no different. Where it is different is that usually the early adopters are mid-sized companies and in AM it seems that many of the adopters are very large companies, even in the Global Fortune 500. Fortune 500 lists include many industries without any manufacturing, such as banking or insurance, where there is no reason for AM adoption (or any other manufacturing technology) yet it’s still interesting to see just how much of the list of 500 largest corporations are benefiting or could be benefiting from AM. Which Global Fortune 500 companies have publicly adopted AM? And which others of their peers could benefit (or are silently benefiting) from a similar move?

Retail meets Dentistry

The current number one company of the Global Fortune 500 is Walmart, an American multinational retail corporation with department stores across the US. Walmart experimented with 3D printing a few years ago with a pilot program where customers could create and print personalized ornaments. In more recent news, Walmart has partnered with SmileDirectClub, which offers dental aligners utilizing 3D printing in order to create personally customized aligners (below manufacturing facility in Antioch Tennessee – Photo via HP). Walmart will now offer these aligners along with its line of oral care products, a move that will undoubtedly expand the reach of SmileDirectClub aligners. While the early experiment was more about introducing customers to 3D printing and creating curiosity, the recent move truly takes advantage of AM on the business level, making customized dentistry solutions available to Walmart’s extensive clientele.

SmileDirectClub manufacturing facility in Antioch Tennessee - Photo via HP

The Logic of Logistics

Additive manufacturing facilitates manufacturing on-demand, in closer geographic proximity to the end customer. The first part of this equation is AM service providers, yet the second is logistics companies. Logistics companies have identified the potential of this business model and in recent years have been active participants in the AM landscape. If mass production requires mass shipping, manufacturing closer to demand calls for a change in both production methods and shipping methods. In the Fortune 500 group, we have FedEx (#152), for example, that launched a company named FedEx Forward Depots which aims to answer customer’s just-in-time production needs as well as repair services using AM. Another example is a collaboration between two Fortune 500 companies, UPS (#132) on the logistics side and SAP (#427) on the ERP side. Together the companies propose an end-to-end solution addressing the entire supply chain (below SAP and UPS 3D printing and distributed manufacturing platform). Two other examples are Maersk Group (#294) in Denmark has been using 3D printing onboard their ships since 2014, and Amazon (#13), who gives logistics services to many sellers, has been awarded a patent for 3D printing during transit – in delivery trucks.

SAP and UPS Opens 3D Printing and Distributed Manufacturing Platform To More Customers

AM for AutoMotive

3D printed window guide rail BMW i8 Roadster - batch

The automotive companies have a long history of working with 3D printing. It’s been used in-house in most automotive companies for years for prototyping purposes and tooling. So while these companies might seem “set in their ways” and less agile than small and medium-sized companies, they have gained a significant amount of AM expertise over the years and are now leveraging it in the production of final parts and spare parts with AM. Tooling continues to be a strong application of AM in automotive as an AM tool can be produced faster lowering downtime of an assembly line. Also with AM, tools can be created for additional tasks that didn’t warrant one that needed an expensive mold but can still improve productivity. When it comes to spare parts – maintaining an inventory of spare parts over years of use and models is extremely costly, AM can allow a company to keep virtual inventory and supply spare parts on demand for many years to come. In the Fortune 500 – Volkswagen(#9), Volvo (#253), and Ford (#30) are just some of the names who use AM regularly for tooling purposes, cutting lead time and costs. BMW (#53) is regularly manufacturing parts such as the 3D printed window guide rail for the BMW i8 Roadster (above), Daimler (#18) additively manufactures spare parts for trucks and buses, so is railway company, Deutsche Bahn  (#208). Michelin (#478) has been additively manufacturing sipes for their tire molds (below) and the list goes on. It is probably fair to say that all transportation companies on the Fortune 500 list have AM on their cross-hairs.

Michelin Additively Manufactured Mold Inserts for Tire

Rising Numbers in Aerospace

In the aerospace industry, there are even more reasons for turning to AM than in the automotive industry. Aerospace usually requires specialized, optimized parts – lower-volume, lower weight,  high-value parts. Just last week Boeing’s 777X plane with GE9X engines made its maiden flight (up top under the hood of the GE9X engine). This engine’s design combined more than 300 parts into 7 additively manufactured components (more on GE in a bit).

Airbus Materialise 3D Printed Panel

Similarly to the automotive industry, non-critical spare parts for planes are a popular application that is lately addressed by AM. Additively manufactured interior plane parts can be almost anything – an air duct or the armrest cover. Boeing(#68) already has more than 60,000 3D-printed parts in the air and the numbers keep rising (above Airbus (#123) and Materialise 3D Printed Panel for plane interior).

Oil, Gas and AM Repairs

The energy industry includes oil, gas, renewable sources, and everything that goes into energy production all the way from the natural elements.  In this industry, AM has a role for somewhat different reasons. For example, gas turbines need to withstand harsh conditions and wear out. Replacing such parts due to wear and tear is costly yet there are additive repair processes that basically add material on top of the object replacing the material that has worn out – allowing for an extended life span of the turbine. Siemens (#70) is an example of a Fortune 500 company repairing gas turbines with AM processes (below). The Fortune 500 list includes 85 companies in the energy and oil and gas sectors, for many, repair is a very interesting application. For others, on the mining or drilling side, tooling and spare parts (potentially in remote locations) are just as interesting. Just imagine how those companies (and the environment) can benefit from additive repairs, tools, and parts…

Siemens Additively Manufactured Parts for Gas Turbines

The AM Players

There are a number of Fortune 500 companies that are strong AM ecosystem players. GE (#48), for example, started working with AM to answer their manufacturing needs and is now a machine manufacturer, a service provider, and a strong player in the AM ecosystem. Michelin (#478), as mentioned above, also started with the need for producing their own AM sipes leading to the formation of AddUp, a metal 3D printer manufacturer. HP (#404) expanded its operation from 2D printers to 3D printers with its Multi Jet Fusion, and chemical companies such as DuPont (#100), BASF (#115), SABIC (#252) are producing materials for additive manufacturing.

And More

FutureCraft 4D Adidas and Carbon 3D Printed Sneakers

There are other industries within the Fortune 500 companies that are involved in AM production. Consumer goods, and healthcare for example – companies such as Procter & Gamble (#146), which has been collaborating with 3D bioprinting company Aether, and Johnson & Johnson (#109) using 3D printing for customized surgical guides. Nike (#341) and Adidas (#481) with 3D printed uppers and soles (above), Apple (#11) has 3D printed related patents, even in beverages – companies like Heineken (#476) can benefit from AM tooling (below), and there are so many more. From a rough calculation, it looks like at least 294 of the Fortune 500 belong to industries that are using AM or can gain from its adoption – that is the vast majority of the world’s largest corporations. An impressive feat for a manufacturing technology!


Which companies and industries do you think can gain from AM? Tell us about them in the comments below or email us. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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