Once considered science fiction, the ability to do 3D printing – to produce objects on demand at relatively low cost – has become a reality and the trend is going to pick up steam in 2013
Here’s a look at 10 trends to watch in 3D printing next year and beyond.
1. 3D printing becomes industrial strength
Once reserved for prototypes and toys, 3D printing will become industrial strength. You will take a flight on an airliner that includes 3D-printed components, making it lighter and more fuel efficient. In fact, there are aircrafts that already contain some 3D-printed components. The technology will also start to be adopted for the direct manufacture of specialist components in industries like defense and automotive. Overall, the number of 3D printed parts in planes, cars and even appliances will increase without you knowing.
2. 3D printing starts saving lives
3D-printed medical implants will improve the quality of life of someone close to you. Because 3D printing allows products to be custom-matched to an exact body shape, it is being used today for making better titanium bone implants, prosthetic limbs and orthodontic devices. Experiments in printing soft tissue are underway, and may soon allow printed veins and arteries to be used in operations. Today’s research into medical applications of 3D printing covers nano-medicine, pharmaceuticals and even printing of organs. Taken to the extreme, 3D printing could one day enable custom medicines and reduce if not eliminate the organ donor shortage.
3. Customization becomes the norm.
You will buy a product, customized to your exact specifications, which is 3D-printed and delivered to your doorstep. Innovative companies will use 3D printing technologies to give themselves a competitive advantage by offering customization at the same price as their competitor’s standard products. At first this may range from novelty items like custom smartphone cases or ergonomic improvements to standard tools, but it will rapidly expand to new markets. The leaders will adjust their sales, distribution and marketing channels to take advantage of their capability to provide customization direct to the customer. Customization will also play a big role in healthcare devices such as 3D-printed hearing aids and artificial limbs.
4. Product innovation is faster.
Everything from new car models to better home appliances will be designed more rapidly, bringing innovation to you faster. Because rapid prototyping using 3D printers reduces the time to turn a concept into a production-ready design, it allows designers to focus on the function of products. Although the use of 3D printing for rapid prototyping is not new, the rapidly decreasing cost, improved design software and increasing range of printable materials means designers will have more access to printers, allowing them to innovate faster by 3D printing an object early in the design phase, modifying it, re-printing it, and so on. The result will be better products, designed faster.
5. New companies develop innovative business models built on 3D printing
You will invest in a 3D printing company’s IPO. Start-up companies will flourish as a generation of innovators, hackers and “makers” take advantage of the capabilities of 3D printing to create new products or deliver services to the burgeoning 3D printer market. Some enterprises will fail, and there may be a boom-bust cycle, but 3D printing will spawn new and creative business models.