When a serious publication like Harvard Business Review declares, “3D printing is changing the way we think,” only those business owners with a head-in-the-sand mentality are going to dismiss it as more academia rhetoric. And they’d be making a mistake.

Recently the HBR asserted that over 30% of the top 300 largest global brands now are using or evaluating 3D printing processes, whether to prototype new products or conduct other innovation-research projects, or to perform actual production of what they sell. “To my mind,” wrote Dartmouth’s Richard D’Aveni, “there is no question that 3D has reached a tipping point.” The report looks at the current status of the 3D printing industry and in doing so it makes a bold prediction: “The question is not if, but when companies need to start considering 3D printing.”

This means that we may have arrived now at a watershed moment for manufacturing, and those businesses that are still on the fence about the advantages of 3D printing soon might find themselves falling into a deep, dark chasm of financial heartache. With this understanding as our premise, we identified five reasons that should persuade manufacturers to incorporate 3D printing in their current business plans.

1. Time to market. Computer-aided design (CAD) software has emerged as a great tool for shaping an idea into a product. But, there is nothing better than designing real-life scenarios in order to gain the proper feedback on a design. By using 3D printing, manufacturers are able to cut out much of their secondary tooling processes, such as injection molding, resin tooling, mold making, and soft tooling. A design engineer could have a new product idea on Tuesday, design a CAD drawing of it on Wednesday morning, and print a 3D part to have in-hand for the sales department’s customer meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Rapid prototyping virtually eliminates the need for preproduction tooling and speculative manufacturing while helping them shorten their time to market.

Fast prototyping support means faster product evaluation. Faster product evaluation means faster time to finalized designs. Faster finalized designs means faster time to production and to market. Faster time to market is a tremendous competitive advantage.

2. Helping the bottom-line. During a case study session at a major design and manufacturing trade event, construction and mining equipment manufacturer Caterpillar showed how it saved money by 3D printing low-volume parts, including hose clamps, gauges, chain links, and scale models of various kinds. In one example, the company reported it saved about $160,000 by 3D printing track links for a tractor.

“What we found is that you just set the printer down and there are all kinds of jobs waiting for it,” noted Jim LaHood, engineering specialist for 3D printing at Caterpillar, remarking about the demand for 3D printing and additive manufacturing technology within his company.