In recent years, 3D printing and additive manufacturing are terms that have been hitting the headlines in virtually every industry. As perhaps one of the most disruptive technologies of our age, 3D printing has the power to transform everything from the way that we offer healthcare, to the buildings that we live in.
As we continue to discover the possibilities of the additive manufacturing landscape, the demand for this technology is growing. According to Statista, the global market will be worth $50 billion (£38 billion) by 2025.
In our last exploration of 3D printing, we looked at what the technology is, how it works, and why it’s beneficial. Now, we’re about to explore the applications and global impact of additive manufacturing.
The Endless Applications of 3D Printing
When 3D printing first emerged in the manufacturing market, it’s primary function was to deliver quick and cost-effective prototypes of industrial parts and machinery. Prototyping is still one of the largest and most valuable applications of 3D printing today. However, there’s also a lot more that we can accomplish with this technology.
In Healthcare: Prosthetic Limbs and Body Parts
The medical sector is one of the earliest adopters of AM technology. For both human and animal care, the opportunities are endless. The Northwestern University of Medicine in Chicago created 3D ovaries for a mouse, which successfully gave birth to healthy pups. Companies like Glaze Prosthetics use their additive manufacturing tools to create customised prosthetics for children. We can even use 3D printing to replace parts of essential organs.
In Transport: More Efficient Vehicles
The benefits that 3D printing is bringing to the transportation sector are vast. In the industrial manufacturing space, AM methods reduce waste and pollution. What’s more, the ability to access new tooling methods and materials means that we can create stronger components for planes and cars, that aren’t as heavy as their traditional counterparts. 3D-printed products are up to half as heavy as their counterparts. They can even use “sparse interior structures” to reduce the amount of energy required to propel a vehicle.
In Construction: Faster Property Development
Imagine being able to rebuild homes for survivors of a natural disaster within a matter of hours. In less than a day, a 400-square-foot house was built in Moscow using 3D-printing technology. The possibilities for erecting reliable structures quickly are particularly intriguing when you consider the ongoing need for emergency shelters and help for the homeless. 3D printing also provides an opportunity for new architectural visions to emerge. In Germany, researches printed a house of glass although it was only in miniature.
In Food: Edible 3D Printing
At first, the idea of 3D printing food seems bizarre. However, it’s not so different from using an icing bag to pipe patterns onto a cake. We’ve already begun to see the possibilities available in the food industry with chocolate 3D printers that allow people to create their own unique designs. Around the world, innovators are experimenting with everything from cookie dough, to ice cream creations and even hamburgers.
Anything You Can Imagine Will Soon be Printable
One of the most extraordinary features of additive manufacturing is just how versatile it is. As experts continue to discover new ways of printing with a wide variety of materials, the possibilities are endless. 3D printing technologies have been used to rebuild and preserve pieces of art and priceless antiques. They’ve even reconstructed parts of the city of Palmyra using additive manufacturing.
Elsewhere, scientists are integrating 3D-printed coral into reefs to help protect and save the parts of the ocean that are being destroyed by changing ecosystems. 3D company Materialise recently printed a full-sized 3D Mammoth.
The Global Effects of 3D Printing
3D printing has already had a substantial effect on the way that parts and products are manufactured. Today, our team can offer completely customisable 3D elements to customers, while eliminating the waste often associated with traditional manufacturing. We’re bringing production closer to the consumer and end-user, and even reducing supply chain restrictions in the process. This is something that’s sure to be crucial as we move forward into an age identified by issues like Brexit.
3D printing allows manufacturers to create small production batches of items and parts for their customer on demand, reducing the need for stockpiling. Shipping spare parts for crucial machinery from locations around the world may become obsolete in a world where you can print anything you need on-site.
All the while, the environment continues to benefit from a process that’s less demanding, and more efficient than traditional manufacturing. For instance, one of the main plastics commonly used in 3D printing (Polylactic Acid) is renewable, biodegradable, non-toxic, and reliable.
Changing the Global Economy
From a global perspective, additive manufacturing also has an impact on the kind of industries and careers we’re aware of today. There are endless opportunities to create new professional services and job opportunities around 3D printing, ranging from new printer operators to product designers.
Already, various initiatives are investing in the future of the 3D printing industry with the development of machines specifically for the classroom. Programs like GE Additive’s education program teach children about 3D design, programming, and CAD. Elsewhere, 3D prints are being used to produce more immersive tactile models that help children to learn about robotics, mental health, and biology too.
3D printing delivers a world of new opportunities, and this is only the beginning. The more we discover about the industry, the more incredible things we’ll be able to accomplish in the AM world.