Protolabs finds market competition drives many companies to speed up already expedited product development times.

In a competitive business environment largely freed from the supply chain shortages of recent years, many manufacturers find they must strive harder to develop products quickly.

While 53% of respondents said they’re developing products faster than ever, more than 80% are looking for ways to be even faster.

That’s among the findings of a recent survey of over 700 product engineers, designers and developers by digital manufacturer Proto Labs Inc.

The company’s market research team surveyed product development professionals across such manufacturing industries as aerospace and defense, automotive, medical equipment and devices, industrial equipment and consumer electronics.

“Respondents made clear today’s product development process is driven by a need for speed,” Protolabs says in the report, “Product Development Outlook 2024: Innovation challenges of today and the future.”


Protolabs provides digital manufacturing services, including 3D printing, injection molding, CNC machining and sheet metal fabrication. Its customers use its services for work ranging from product prototyping to production.

“As a manufacturer serving customers from prototyping to production, we have a front-row seat to watch companies bring products to market faster than ever,” says Luca Mazzei, strategic growth officer.

For now, little help expected from AI

Among the report’s findings:

  • While 53% of respondents said they’re developing products “faster than ever,” more than 80% are “looking for ways to be even faster.”
  • 65% cite market competition as the primary motivating force behind expediting product development.

The report identified marked improvements in supply chain expectations and the availability of production materials:

  • 33% of respondents predicted they would have to deal with materials shortages this year, down sharply from 70% a year earlier.
  • 44% predicted material shortages would impact their product development operations over the next five years, down from 74% a year earlier.

The report also revealed how product development professionals expect other trends, including skilled labor shortages and AI, will impact their workload and operations:

  • 78% of respondents said the biggest pressure for developing products will come from customers expecting rapid product iteration and modernization.
  • 65% cited as a significant challenge a shortage of skilled workers.
  • 66% said they expect AI to have “little or no impact” on product development over the next five years before it matures as a technology.
  • 63% said they expect sustainability and environmental impact trends will have “little or no effect” on product development.

Paul Demery is a Digital Commerce 360 contributing editor covering B2B digital commerce technology and strategy. [email protected].

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