3D Printing’s Quiet Revolution

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3D printing technology has been a little bit slow to reach the average consumer. While plenty of people are excited by its potential and intrigued by what they might do with it, the simple fact remains that personal 3D printing devices are quite expensive, and the ones that are more affordable have more limited capabilities. Don’t let the relative dearth of consumer applications lull you into thinking 3D printing has gone the way of 3D television, though. In fact, the technology is quietly revolutionizing practices for a range of industries, and in some very exciting ways.

To give you some idea of the growth that’s happening, again somewhat quietly, Forbes recently cited a study that forecasted a $35.6 billion 3D printing industry by 2024. That’s substantial growth, particularly given that the same study estimated $15.8 billion in 3D printing-related revenue ini 2020. But to fully understand how and why this is happening, one must naturally ask where the growth is coming from – or, putting it another way, which applications and industries are driving investment in 3D printing services.

First and foremost, there’s the basic manufacturing of product lines to consider. Building effective prototypes for new products has long been an expensive and troublesome challenge for budding businesses, and this is one of the processes that 3D printing technology has largely simplified. In fact, Fictiv points out that business owners can now iterate quickly on early stage designs with parts delivered in 24 hours’ time. That’s an astonishingly fast turnaround time compared to past methods of manufacturing, and it has already enabled businesses of all kinds to order and tweak prototype designs with unprecedented speed. Thereafter, they can either take their own steps to turn the prototype into a product line, or further rely on 3D-printed parts to get their products to market.

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Frankly, those processes cover much of the expected growth across miscellaneous industries. With 3D printing services having reached a point of offering that level of convenience, most any business that relies on physical products can stand to benefit. However, there are also some specific areas in which we could see particularly meaningful spikes in 3D printing usage.

One of those areas its the field of medicine, where it’s likely that we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of 3D printing’s utility. You may have read on this site before about the idea of bioprinting complex living tissue, which speaks somewhat to the idea of creating material from scratch for medical purposes. 3D printing generally works differently, but can have a similar effect in producing much-needed items in an affordable and replicable manner. These items range from basic hospital storage mechanisms, to surgical equipment, to device implants, and in some cases even artificial organs! Broadly speaking, 3D printing is poised to improve hospital operations and medical care significantly, and could even expand our ideas of what’s possible regarding certain treatments.

Another specific area worth keeping an eye on is that of architecture. Here, we haven’t seen quite as many applications already as we have in medicine, but the concepts, models, and potential designs are nothing short of breathtaking. Scientific American spoke to this in a piece identifying potential applications of 3D printing in building industries. It discussed 3D-printed bridges and buildings, pointed out the possible reduction in labor costs, and perhaps most significantly pointed out that this sort of process in construction could eliminate a significant amount of material waste. Other sources have also suggested that 3D printing could provide low-cost housing in neighborhoods in need, or even produce more artistic and inventive buildings in newer cities or neighborhoods being updated. One day in 10 or 20 years, we may in fact see cities comprised largely of 3D-printed projects.

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Taken all together, these examples still don’t cover the entirety of the growth and expansion we expect to see in 3D printing in the next four or five years. However, they do show how the technology’s impact is spreading despite its relatively limited consumer utility.

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