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The Future Of 3D Printing

3D printing began in the 1980’s, when people called it Rapid Prototyping (RP) technology. Over the years, manufacturing, art, and many other industries use 3D printing. Now, we see even more growth in every industry that uses 3D printing.

In addition, we will also see 3D printing become more accessible. It is now available for industry and home use. There are many things a 3D printer can make which is why we’re seeing it pop up in different places.

It will also continue to grow in complexity. Combine this with the fact we will be able to use more materials and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it in different industries.

Table of Contents

Versatility

Today, almost any industry you can think of utilizes 3D printing. Some of these include food production, medical, dental, transportation, manufacturing, and consumer goods.

Food Production

3D printer food
Source: indiacadworks.com

As you can imagine, 3D printing is highly useful in industry creating products. But what you may not realize, is that 3D printing is not confined to inorganic (non-living) materials.

3D printers can surprisingly make food. In fact, printed food is no longer just a thing of science fiction. Back in 2006, NASA started researching printed food and many people consider this to be the beginning of 3D printed food. I’m personally not going to try it yet because it doesn’t sound appealing, but its got to start somewhere right?

3D printing is similar to food manufacturing that we use today. Many companies use molds to create packaged foods. However, there are many different types of foods that we can produce using 3D printing. Some of that includes pizza, burgers, and chocolate. One way to imagine this is by imagining what kind of food you can liquify. 

3D printed foods will have several benefits in the future. This will allow us to reduce waste and customize food to individual needs. Being able to customize foods helps those who have dietary restrictions. It also means less bathroom trips and hospital visits.

It also brings a huge benefit to environmental sustainability. 3D printing lets us reduce waste by giving us the ability to incorporate more ingredients into the food. For example, we can reuse leftover and undesirable parts of our food so that they do not go to waste.

Medical And Dental

Source: openbiomedical.org

3D printing is also useful in the medical field. First, it is a great tool for producing medical equipment, such as surgical instruments. 3D printing can fast track production and ensure that the industry never runs out of needed equipment.

Second, 3D printing can create biological and inorganic body parts. The simplest way to use 3D printing here is for prosthetics. Patients can rely on this to receive fully customized prosthetics much quicker than with typical production.

3D printing works for implants as well. We already see this in the dental field with custom implant-supported crowns.

Regarding biological 3D printing, there is a lot of interesting research into this field. For example, Cornell University researchers created an artificial ear in 2013.

Various companies continue to research the possibility of 3D printing for organs and various biological tissues.

This works by using cells collected from the patients and mixing them with growth factors in the lab. Growth factors stimulate cell reproduction so that the tissue grows on its own. We will use this in combination with 3D printing techniques to build organs in layers.

This was already demonstrated in a 2011 TED talk. Anthony Atala (Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine director) printed a rudimentary kidney in front of a live audience.

Of course, we have a bit of work to do until these parts are fully functional. However, this is promising for the medical future of 3D printing.

When we are finally able to print fully functional organs, patients will no longer need to wait for years to get lifesaving transplants. At the end of 2019, over 114,000 people were on the wait list for organ donation.

Not only does this mean more lives saved, it also means far less incidents of organ rejection. No matter how compatible two patients are, there is always risk for complications. Your body could reject the donated organ, leading to a loss of function, infection, and other issues.

But, by using your own biological material, we eliminate this risk. Your body would simply treat the regrown organ as your own natural organ because that is what it is.

As we all know, the medical industry can be quite expensive for patients as well. Beyond organs, the ability to print needed equipment, prosthetics, etc. at will also reduces the cost to the patient. We all know these insurance companies want their money. I’ve been a victim of the health insurance industry. 3D printing advances need to come faster so I can save money for other things!

Like any industry, streamlining production makes the process cheaper for everyone. For example, kidney transplants can cost over $300,000. However, it is estimated that 3D printing could reduce this cost to less than $100,000.

Transportation

3d printed transportation
Source: sculpteo.com

We will use 3D printing for everything from cars to planes. With all of the materials available, we can use 3D printing to produce parts for any type of transportation you can imagine.

The transportation industry is complex. When it comes to specific parts, production and replacement gets tricky.

Many of the parts are not produced in high volumes. Ironically, though, low volume production can be expensive and time consuming. This is because factories must reconfigure machines and switch out parts and materials. There’s also the concept of economies of scale which means companies save more by producing more. Not being able to do that ironically means it costs more in the long run.

This gets expensive when it comes to the manpower needed to run the machines. However, with 3D printing, these extra steps are not needed. Instead, you can simply program the machine to print parts at will and save both time and money in the long run.

This is extremely beneficial for cars and other transportation that need rare parts. We have all been there where we need a part replacement, but the shop does not have it readily available.

This leaves you waiting for days or even weeks for the part to come in and stranded without a vehicle. But, with 3D printers available, the shop will simply print the part you need and fix the issue on the same day.

3D printing will also make it easier to get customized parts for vehicles. This is especially helpful in luxury and motorsports industries. We can get custom designs and decals.

We will see weight reduction and material consolidation as well. Many transportation parts are complex, and the extra materials needed to complete them can weigh the vehicle down.

Using 3D printing can optimize the parts to use as little material as possible without losing function. Not only does this reduce cost by saving on material, but it also reduces fuel consumption and general wear and tear.

Manufacturing And Consumer Goods

3d printer consumer goods
Source: sculpteo.com

3D printing is quickly gaining traction in the manufacturing industry. As of right now, the industry is worth about $9.3 billion. However, reports estimate that it will grow to around $55.8 billion by the year 2027.

Similar to the other industries mentioned, 3D printing will streamline production and make the industry more cost effective for everyone. It will allow customized products to be more readily available and cheaper for the customer.

For example, Adidas has already used 3D printing to create midsoles for a sneaker. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. The ability to 3D print custom apparel would be essential for consumer satisfaction.

We will also see a reduction in the time it takes to get products to the consumer. 2020 would have been a lot less stressful if we could simply print toilet paper as needed.

3D printing can find use in any consumer good you can think of. Apparel, beauty products, personal care, and more can come from 3D printing.

To demonstrate, designers have even been able to 3D print a house. What this means for the future is the ability to supply consumers with anything they could ever need on demand. Basic necessities, recreational items, and more will be available.

Accessibility

As the use of 3D printing extends across industries, so will training. It will become a core skill in many different industries.

You can think of this like the use of a computer or basic office programs. Years ago, many careers used paper versus electronic documents. However, as the programs became more understood, almost every industry switched over to a digital version.

We will see the same trend with 3D printing in any career that involves product manufacturing. As industries adopt 3D printing production, employees will need to know how to use the machines. Otherwise, they may fall into the background of job candidates.

On that note, 3D printing courses will be commonplace in schools. At some point, we may even see full curriculums dedicated to 3D printing. This is similar to what we see with degrees in digital design, computer science, etc.

Additionally, on the job training of 3D printers will also be commonplace. Do not be surprised if you have an industry job and your employer decides to start training you on 3D printing.

Beyond industry though, 3D printing will continue to become more accessible for home use.

When I first wrote about 3D printing years ago, home units could cost upwards of several thousand dollars. Now, it is easy to find basic models for just a couple hundred dollars.

The market continues to grow and so does consumer demand. Production of the printers themselves will become quicker and easier for manufacturers. So, it will be even easier to get a home 3D printer in the future.

Complexity

Because 3D printers work off of computer programming, printing capabilities continue to grow. In the future, we will be able to incorporate more features into the machines to help with streamlining production.

We accomplish this through both software upgrades and machine learning (similar to artificial intelligence). Various software applications will be able to make 3D printing quicker and easier for all users.

For example, one software upgrade released earlier this year has the capability to speed up the 3D printing process by three times. As technology advances, these programs will only become faster and more efficient.

On a more complex level, we will incorporate machine learning into 3D printing. Machine learning allows the printer to learn from its own mistakes. This means that it will alter the way it prints in order to ensure more accuracy.

A team of researchers at the University of Southern California is already looking into this.

By giving the printer the ability to fix its own mistakes, we will save time, money, and materials. The team lead, Qiang Huang, explains that industries may need multiple builds in order to get the product right.

At the moment, 3D printers adjust based on what we program them to do. However, this will no longer be a need once the machines can correct the problems themselves.

The research team shows that using these programs improve accuracy by up to 50-90% in some cases.

Despite being a highly sophisticated process, 3D printing is still not perfect. No technology ever is. However, 3D printers will improve drastically in the future. Machine learning is just one example of how.

3D Printing Future Overview

3D printing is already a complex process as is. However, as technology progresses, its capabilities will grow drastically.

We will be able to use many different materials in the future. This allows us to create new products, both biological and inorganic to improve various industries.

Hopefully, 3D printers will be more ubiquitous in the future. They will also be capable of self- correction in the future. This means common 3D printing issues will fix itself while printing. 

The future can’t come soon enough!

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