Last week saw the Aspectus Engineering PR team attend the IET’s Young Professionals’ lecture ‘3D printing: The future of manufacturing?’ at the Royal Institution. We are currently managing a PR campaign promoting the IET’s series of Prestige Lectures and this particular lecture has generated a huge amount of interest.

The speaker, the University of Nottingham’s Professor of Innovative Manufacturing Richard Hague, discussed both the history of 3D printing and current applications of the technology, before providing the audience with an insight into the future of the sector. Unsurprisingly, the media’s perception of 3D printing came up several times during the lecture, and Richard explained how it had affected the technology in both a positive and negative way.

With the lofty expectations that consumer 3D printers will be able to build almost anything in the future, from guns to houses, the technology now sits at the pinnacle of Gartner’s famous Hype Cycle. However, Richard believes that this publicity has damaged the industry and warped the perception of 3D printing in the public’s consciousness. He even went so far as to suggest that the phrase ‘3D printing’ has been permanently tainted.

As such, Richard was at pains to draw a distinction between the household printers that have dominated the media, and the high-spec industrial devices that are driving innovation in the manufacturing sector. Richard preferred to use the technical term for the process – ‘additive manufacturing’ – and argued that the media hype surrounding 3D printing had distracted from its real benefits – i.e. that it can be used to print a range of practical components and devices.

For example, the technology is already reducing waste and increasing efficiency in the manufacturing supply chain by producing lightweight components, which are cheaper to ship, but still have the same functionality and structural integrity as the parts they are replacing.

Richard did concede that the hype has played a role in getting the technology in front of C-level executives who are now investing in additive manufacturing; so it can be seen as a double-edged sword.

Certainly from a PR perspective, hype can be useful in terms of bringing technology to the attention of potential buyers and a much wider audience, but hype is also unwieldy and must be managed. PR is about subtlety and clarity of message, whereas hype can easily amplify populist aspects of a story with scant thought for accuracy or detail.

3D printing brands have rushed to capitalise on the current wave of hype in order to fit with the news agenda, which has given them ‘quick wins’ in terms of coverage. However, in doing so, many have also inadvertently aligned themselves with narratives that have nothing to do with their messaging. The good news for additive manufacturing companies is that the hype surrounding the technology is on the wane and this recent article from the BBC is just one example of the media’s willingness to write more in-depth features on the use of 3D printing in industrial contexts.

Clearly, there is an opportunity for additive manufacturers to re-educate the media by communicating the real benefits of 3D printing and its true potential more clearly. Not only will this cut through the hype, it will ensure they generate quality coverage and position their brand front of mind for consumers and potential buyers alike.

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