The golden age of software technology may soon collide with the future of efficient manufacturing. Additive manufacturing and 3D printing processes are now carving a niche by integrating computer programming and CAD with component manufacturing. According to the data from research firm Canalys, the 3D printing industry is forecast to grow by 56% to $5.2 billion in 2015 and quadruple in growth over the next five years. With advancements in printing speeds and the availability of new materials, this growing technology offers endless applications that can soon transform modern manufacturing in the below industries as we know it.
Manufacturing for the dental industry requires a combination of high-value, high-performance, and high-volume parts. With the ability to print in a variety of complex shapes and materials in significant volumes, 3D printers expand the horizons for dental equipment. Dentistry offers various polymer and metallic applications for surgical models, casting, restorative components, and other solutions that can disrupt the technology utilized in this industry. Also, in what might sound like the plot to a science fiction movie, advances in 3D printing may soon pave the way towards constructing human tissue. Tissue engineering, along with dentistry, is one of the biggest sectors in the medical space and may soon enable personalized tissue implants in patients that will grow within the body. In the world of medicine, 3D printing holds the potential to bridge the gap between science fiction and transhumanism.
While some automotive manufacturers are leveraging 3D printers to design entire cars, the future of 3D printed car components may be right around the corner. Firms like Local Motors are already making steps to utilize a special carbon-fiber reinforced plastic to print a body, chassis, and interior that should make their cars safe enough to drive on public roads. 3D printing can also cut the time and costs between prototyping and developing by eliminating hand-forming prototypes. In fact, large OEMs such as BMW already praise the detailed design refinements involved with the new method, which can eliminate complex tools or molds and make production more cost-effective. Further, as automotive volumes continue to increase globally, low-cost and high-variable 3D printed components could be a major force to drive down the cost of producing cutting-edge, yet still low-volume, electric and autonomous vehicles.
Perhaps the most intuitive application for 3D printing is the design of high-volume consumer electronics. More specifically, the industry has seen incredible developments in producing multi-layered printed circuit boards (PCBs). With access to 3D printers, a product designer can produce multi-layered PCBs in-house to experiment with prototypes in only a matter of hours and at relatively low costs. Thus, 3D printing can make prototyping more flexible and expedite the development phase for entrepreneurs. Beyond production efficiency, 3D printing offers green incentives by eliminating the hazardous chemicals and waste materials that are generally associated with manufacturing PCBs.
Efficient manufacturing cultivates a global economy that eliminates barriers to trade and invites advancements in technology. With the ability to reduce production time, costs, and emissions, 3D printing allows new market entrants to quickly bring disruptive technologies to market.