3D printing is certainly no passing trend. It’s already shaping the way many significant industries operate, and will continue to do so in 2020 and beyond.
Although the technology first entered mainstream popularity through hobbyists that used it for domestic and personal purposes, 3D printing is now used by a number of industries across the world. In fact, a Research and Markets report forecasts more than $35 billion (£27.25 billion) in growth for the global 3D printing industry between 2020 to 2027. The report attributes these stellar projections to the growing use of 3D printing in specialised manufacturing, technical training, enhanced product prototyping, healthcare, and many other applications across the world.
How Does It Work?
To put it simply, a 3D printer can take three-dimensional digital plans or designs and translate them into real-world objects by printing them in successive thin layers of whatever material the printer uses. Given the wide range of possibilities in terms of digital designs available through CAD or other 3D design software, a HP Tech Takes article discusses how the only limitations to this process are the creators’ access to raw materials as well as their own imagination. In addition, HP notes the four most common 3D printing processes in use today: polyjet, stereolithography (SLA), digital laser projection (DLP), and filament deposition modeling (FDM) aka fused filament fabrication. Each process comes with its own strengths and disadvantages based on compatibility with available raw materials, level of printing capabilities, and overall cost of not just acquisition but also maintenance. This is why the tech giant also advises those interested in 3D printing to first clarify their own intentions for why they need the technology in the first place, as this will help narrow down options and ultimately indicate which printers, processes, and materials will serve them the best.
Current and Emerging Use Cases for 3D Printing
In manufacturing, 3D printing has seen a lot of success. By using advanced 3D printers that can work with raw materials typically used in aerospace engineering, engineers from multi-industrial conglomerate General Electric managed to reduce the 855 separate parts needed create a jet engine into just 12 parts. Not only does this simplify the assembly process, it can also potentially streamline the required maintenance and repair of jet engines —not just for General Electric, but for the entire aerospace/transport industry in the future. Similarly, we’ve previously touched on how automotive company Ford has the capability to rapidly prototype complex parts using the technology, even creating a full-size car with 70% 3D-printed parts. And despite the large-scale implications of these recent advancements, they’re just the tip of the 3D-printed iceberg.
Right here in the UK, 3D printing has been empowering new and exciting avenues in healthcare, particularly in the veteran care sector this year. Case in point: 43-year-old army veteran Darren “Daz” Fuller lost part of his arm during a tour in Afghanistan. However, with funding through the NHS Veterans’ Prosthetics Panel, Fuller became the first British veteran to receive a 3D-printed robotic prosthetic to replace the arm he lost in service. And he’s hopeful that this is just the beginning of the growing tech-empowered support for the nation’s former servicemen. “To be the first veteran to get one is fantastic, but it leads on to me hopefully being the first of many.”
While its world-changing applications are apparent, 3D printing also opens up a world of fun possibilities for small home hobbyists. In February, Sentinel Source reported how a website called Thingiverse provided people with free access to digital 3D-printable designs for just about anything. From toys and collectibles like replicas of Darth Vader’s mask, to clever designs for cookie cutters, space-saving dish racks, bicycle replacement parts, or holiday ornaments, there’s likely a free 3D blueprint of it somewhere in Thingiverse. This could considerably shake up the toy, collectible, and retail markets, as cheaper 3D printers and processes make the technology increasingly accessible to home hobbyists and other small-scale creators.
In short, expect 3D printing to continue to become more mainstream, develop new use cases for other industries, and to continually grow not just in 2020 but throughout the decade.