If it lives up to its potential as a truly groundbreaking technology, 3D printing will revolutionize a number of mainstream industries. Experts and industry analysts highlight that the manufacturing and healthcare sectors are almost certain to see major disruptions as 3D printing technology matures, with the current large, central manufacturing facility model likely to be replaced by thousands of local production facilities utilizing specialized 3D printers (distributed manufacturing).
The vast majority of 3D printers today are still used to create prototypes rather than products, but that is set to change in 2016 and beyond. Products ranging from passenger aircraft to smartphones to automobiles will contain components made by 3D printers, and many believe we may see computer chips or even complete electronic devices or household appliances produced by 3D printing by the end of the decade.
3D Printing for Industries
3D printers have become an indispensable tool in the product design industry over the last few years. Design processes that used to take months can now be completed in weeks or even days using 3D printing for rapid prototyping, form and fit testing. In some cases, 3D printing can reduce the entire product development cycle by as much as 50%.
The key technologies underlying 3D printing have continued to mature, however, and are reaching the stage where it is both feasible and economic to undertake commercial scale product manufacture. One key recent development in 3D printing is the ability to use multiple types of materials, including mixing materials while printing a single object. This is now enabling 3D printers to produce spare parts and components, and even the ability to produce a number of separate components combined into a single complex part.
Analysts point out that 3D printers are already showing up on factory floors in many manufacturing segments, and this trend is clearly gaining steam.
Major Boon for Healthcare
3D printing has already had a positive impact on the healthcare sector with the ability to plan surgeries using precise anatomical models based on diagnostic scans and the development of custom orthopedic implants and prosthetics.
In the future, 3D printing will open up many new possibilities in healthcare, such as 3D printed cadavers for medical schools or emergency medical technician (EMT) training, printing live biological tissues for testing in drug development or even printing veins/arteries or organs for transplantation.
Maturing Consumer Segment for 3D Printers
The 3D printing industry has been trying to create consumer demand for their products for some time now, but has seen quite limited success to date. Some sector analysts are suggesting that may change as soon as later this year, as the industry is likely to see at least a few “killer apps” that could dramatically increase consumer demand for printers. When you throw in the fact that prices for basic 3D printers continue to steadily drop, there’s a good chance that 2016 is the year that 3D printing technology finally gains some traction in the consumer segment.
3D Printing Gets Outsourced
Outsourcing of 3D printing needs is another growing trend at many small- and medium-sized enterprises today. Experts say it is a matter of both cost and convenience. The latest, most technologically advanced 3D printers offer a variety of useful new features, but are increasingly expensive. Moreover, high-end printers typically have a much steeper learning curve, and high demand for the devices at a workplace can also create bottlenecks and lead to a lot of wasted time.
When you add in the fact that both the quality and the number of external 3D printing providers has increased substantially lately, with many firms guaranteeing 24-hour delivery, it’s not surprising that many businesses today are giving up their internal 3D printers and working with local providers instead.
In conclusion, the 3D Printing Industry is set to grow rapidly in many different industries and in many different ways. It is only a matter of time before 3D printing invades every aspect of our lives.