The UK has one of the top five 3D printing sectors worldwide, according to research from HP and A.T. Kearney.
The study of 30 leading economies places Britain 5th overall for readiness to adopt 3D printing technology, and among the world's three fastest-growing 3D printing markets.
Yet the UK government must focus its efforts in three crucial areas – education, adoption and incentives – if the sector is to stay ahead, says George Brasher, HP's managing director for the UK & Ireland.
3D printing is one of the powerful technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and is poised to transform the $12-trillion global manufacturing industry. It promises to democratise industrial production, dramatically reducing costs and production cycles.
The study found that the UK is 5th best placed globally to adopt 3D printing and digitise manufacturing – behind the US, Germany, Korea and Japan (in rank order).
Within Europe, Britain came in second – behind only Germany (placed 2nd globally), and ahead of Sweden (8th), France (9th), and Italy (12th).
And the UK's standing looks set to improve further, as the country rapidly expands its 3D printing capability. Britain is the world's 3rd fastest nation accelerating its domestic 3D printing market, according to the research. Only South Korea (1st) and Italy (2nd) are progressing more quickly.
Strengths and challenges
The country readiness rankings are based on a detailed analysis of six key dimensions of readiness for 3D printing, including: Adoption, Demand, Trade, People, Governance and Technology.
Encouragingly, the UK ranks 2nd globally for the necessary trade conditions to boost 3D printing adoption, and 3rd for both technological readiness and for its governance climate. But it lies outside the global top ten for the people dimension (11th), due in part to a lack of digital manufacturing skills.
Commenting on the findings, George Brasher said: "The UK is at a critical juncture in these early days of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We are well placed to lead the world in 3D printing, but there is no room for complacency when preparing the workforce for next-generation manufacturing."
George also outlined three important areas for policymakers to focus on if Britain is to keep its competitive edge in 3D printing:
George commented: "The UK must invest in educational programmes to train the new digital workforce, and in university research to advance 3D technology."
George commented: "The government can accelerate the domestic market by being an early adopter through its procurement policies, and by supporting uptake among small businesses. Eliminating customs duties and other trade barriers on 3D printers and materials is also essential."
George commented: "Government can nurture the growth of a sustainable 3D ecosystem in Britain, by encouraging investment in digital manufacturing capabilities through tax breaks and direct grants.
"By focusing on these three vital areas, the UK government can ensure we stay ahead of the global digital manufacturing curve."