Why 3D Printing Is Not Dead
3D printing has extended beyond being a fad for niche enthusiasts. While 3D printers haven’t become a staple in our homes, they have indeed found their place in other markets. And it does not show any signs of stopping or even slowing down.
You do not have to take my word for it; the evidence is there.
Here are five pieces of varied information that support 3D printing’s growth:
- Investments in 3D printing increased from 49 percent in 2017 to 70 percent in 2018.
- According to Smartech Publishing, the 3D printing market grew to $9.3 billion in 2018 and is expected to continue to grow, reaching an estimated $20 billion by 2022.
- Formnext, the leading exhibition in the 3D printing world, attracted 852 exhibitors in 2019—a 35 percent growth rate from the previous year.
- In the past year or so, venture capitalists invested more than $600 million in start-ups involved in 3D printing discovery or manufacturing.
- The Gartner Institute estimates that by 2023, 25 percent of medical devices will use 3D printing in some capacity.
Over the past decade, such 3D printing technologies have permeated a broad range of industries, from construction and manufacturing to precision medicine and aerospace. Forbes wrote an article as recent as 2019 on 12 Revolutionary Ways 3D Printing Is Changing The World.
Does that sound like a dying industry to you?
Benefits and Applications Of 3D Printing
With a range of materials and flexibility to create products on both smaller and larger scales, 3D printing provides unique opportunities. The very nature of an additive process leads to certain distinct benefits compared to other manufacturing methods.
These benefits are:
- Reduced waste and consequent manufacturing costs
- Capacity to create parts with high internal complexity
- Faster production
- Ease of design modification
- Potential for mass production
- Low barriers to entry
- Creative freedom
Such characteristics prove advantageous for manufacturing companies of all sizes. Present-day increases in investments for development seek to take full advantage of these benefits while combating 3D printing weaknesses that currently hold the industry back.
Opportunity for Further Innovation and Growth
In the past, 3D printing’s potential has been staunched by limitations including, but not limited to:
- Health hazards
- Slower processes
- Extensive manual labor
- Complex software and design requirements
- Poor finishing methods
- And more.
Consequently, 3D printing has typically been limited to low to medium volume productions. However, exploration and discovery have led to new technologies and strategies that seek to address and alleviate such limitations.
For instance, deploying printers in mass to work in tandem with another can produce thousands of parts per week. Machines are also becoming increasingly skilled at using a variety of materials, allowing for customization and versatility.
Composite 3D printing is another example of a niche capable of taking off, streamlining processes, and cutting costs for industries that benefit the most from utilizing the strong but lightweight material. In 2019, some of the larger composite 3D printing companies were able to raise millions of dollars in funds to investigate such possibilities.
According to a 2019 congressional research service report, 3D printing technologies will likely increase in usability, thanks to new materials, lower production costs, and issues with quality assurance being addressed.
“Applications will play a central role in driving most growth in the industry.”
Source: Terry Wohlers, Principal Consultant & President, Wohlers Associates, Inc.
Federal Support for 3D Printing
Innovations in 3D printing are not solely supported by the private sector. Government agencies have also provided funding for basic and applied research and development.
Some of these agencies include:
- The National Science Foundation
- The Department of Defense
- The National Institutes of Health
- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Federal support has also been expressed by the likes of the flagship institute of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.
The wide range of support for additive manufacturing processes will likely lead to a surge in innovation and 3D printing efficacy.
A Brief History Of 3D Printing
Looking back at how far 3D printing has come helps us get a better look at its potential and growth. Many people are unaware that 3D printing is not at all a newer technology. In fact, it has been around since the 1980s, when the first major patents were filed. The history of 3D printing can be broken down into three major periods:
- Early growth and development: From its inception to 2010, 3D printers using plastic, metal, paper, ceramic, and wax became more readily available, though quite expensive. In the early 2000s, specialized industries adopted 3D printing technologies as plastic materials became available. When patents from the 1980s expired, key developments lead to the consumer printing movement.
- The rise of consumer printing: 3D printing for the general public took off from 2010–2015 as options became cheaper and more convenient. Industrial and consumer unit sales steadily increased, with 3D printing industry revenues having grown annually by 26.9 percent over the past 30 years.
- Renewed investment: The price of consumer printers has decreased drastically, but sales have continued in an upward trajectory. Due to 3D printing limitations, traditionally, manufacturing methods are still dominant. However, recent investment has put growth and applications for 3D printing back on the map.
3D printing has not made quite the revolutionary impact that some expected. For instance, 3D printers have not become home staples. Nonetheless, 3D printing has made its mark on certain industries, and we have yet to see its ceiling.
As technologies improve and our understanding of 3D printing materials and applications increase, we will only see the industry continue to grow and influence our production capabilities. The numbers prove that 3D printing is on an incline and definitely not six feet under.
There are two types of people who proclaim that 3D printing is dead.
- Those who view it from a strictly general consumer perspective.
- People who had exaggerated, likely unrealistic expectations for 3D printing in the first place.
Neither has a comprehensive understanding of what 3D printing has to offer or how much impact it has had on many industries.
Sure, we do not live in a world where every home office features a desk area dedicated to 3D printing, and that may never be the case. But that does not mean the technology has reached a dead end. We have yet to discover many applications and innovations, and we have not seen all that 3D printing has to offer. And personally, I could not be more excited to see what comes next!