Now a days, the tech world is mostly focusing on AI, big data, machine learning, and how all these will affect our daily lives later on. However, developing with the same pace, but with slightly less hype is 3D printing, a technology which is going to have a massive impact on our daily lives in the near future. It is a small step from spraying toner on paper to putting down layers of plastic resin until they add up to an object, by empowering a machine to make objects of any shape and size, on the spot as needed by the user.
One of the early innovators of the 3D printing technology is Singapore Airlines, which is well-known for the amount of luxury it provides on its long-haul flights. Its subsidiary, Singapore Airlines Engineering Company, signed a deal with Stratasys recently in order to explore the world of 3D printing technology for research, design, and production of various aircraft parts. However, at first the airline company will use the technology in various interior parts rather than printing any structural elements of the frame or any engine parts. Right now, the organization needs to maintain inventories which include a ton of different parts that need to be replaced across the fleet once the fleet is replaced. This makes the airliner’s life harder, thanks to the problems related to logistics and replacements.
So, with the technology adaption from companies like Singapore Airlines, BMW, etc. the 3D printing platform is expected to grow massively over the next few years. So, here are few trends that will eventually shape up the industry in the near future.
When it comes to materials, soon the industry is going to see vendors putting more importance into development, chemistry and delivery of those materials. It might be the availability of higher-temperature materials, materials with more structural strength and integrity, and materials that are more flexible. Additionally, the new kind of materials will reflect more and more about the way how people want to create and use different parts. Recently few researchers have developed a 3D printed gel that mimics cartilage of humans when dried. Other than that, another group of researchers from Madrid has come up with printable human skin, that will eventually help in skin transplants.
Soon users can expect increased availability of affordable and widely adopted usage of materials for metal manufacturing. Until now, most available metal 3D printing technologies have been quite expensive, which used to act as a barrier while prototyping or mass producing. With much lower price points and better availability of materials, organizations can fully explore the world of 3D printing.
With the better availability of materials, soon prosthetics, are now also getting printed. 3D printed prosthetics are cheaper and much lighter than their regular counter parts, which are much more easier to use especially for children and pets. Kids normally outgrow their mechanical limbs within a year, so being able to replace those limbs affordably could eventually revolutionize the market.
The best innovation must have to be the 3D printed coral reefs. As everyone knows coral reefs are very important for the marine ecosystem. However, according to various agencies around seventy percent of world’s coral reef is either damaged or destroyed, thanks to industrial development and pollution. So, a Bahrain based organization is countering the destruction by printing reefs in 3D printers and installing those along the coast line of Persian Gulf. So, if the printing cost goes down, then the environment will also be benefited.
Off late, 3D printing has been a game changer for the manufacturing sector, especially for those companies that had ideas in mind but couldn’t sell enough to justify large industrial scale manufacturing. Now organizations have started to print low volume products that weren’t viable before. The medical sector will be the one of the most benefited sectors, thanks to the ability of these printers to print surgical instruments without the burden of high production cost.
3D printers can also be used for architectural purposes. Last year, a China based company built ten 3D-printed concrete houses in a day and each of them cost around $4800. Recently, the company took 3D printing to new heights by building a five-story apartment building and a 1,100-square meter villa. The structures were made by printing large portions of the building and then by assembling them. As per the company, it used fiberglass, rubble, steel, and cement binder to make the ink.
With cheaper printing costs, the adoption of the technology would be much wider. Back in 2015, a 3D printed supercar was revealed, and a year later the company partnered with French manufacturer Peugeot signaling a wider acceptance of 3D printing in the automotive sector. Later in 2016, a 3D printed superbike was also unveiled at the LA Auto Show. Which makes it clear that the automotive industry is embracing the technology.
So, here we have pointed out few of the trends that could change the course of various industries. However, 3D printing is not the answer to all the manufacturing issues that we face today. For now, it is mainly being adopted in sectors like healthcare, automotive, aviation, and energy sectors. But one can expect that over the time production cost will fall, and it will transform various sectors including clothing, manufacturing, healthcare, and others.