Quoted as being “potentially bigger than the internet”, 3D printing (otherwise known as Additive Manufacturing (AM)), has quietly become one of the most exciting technological advances of the 21st century. According to Colin Koh (Senior Manager at LKH Precicon) who collaborates closely with Paul Guillaumot (CEO of Spare Parts 3D) we can only expect 3D printing to become bigger and bigger.
“According to the Wohlers Report 2018, the 3D printing industry has a worth of US$ 8.8 billion. While 3D printing prototyping and experimentation are useful in accelerating product development, end-used parts applications is still its biggest use with production numbers growing every year.”
For those unaware, 3D printing refers to the use of technology to create a three dimensional model by laying successive thin layers of material in line with a digital design. Created in 1981 the technology has come into its own over the past decade, with popularity growing year on year. This has encouraged predictions for market growth to total US$ 17.2 billion by the year 2020 and even reach US$ 50 billion by 2025. A colossal rise for the already wildly popular industry appears inevitable.
However, according to Colin, there are still some challenges standing in the way of a surge in mainstream popularity.
“There are three main obstacles preventing more widespread awareness and adoption. Firstly we have the issue of integration. While some companies know the versatility 3D printing provides, some need to increase their awareness of what the technology is capable of. Once this happens we can expect to see even more technological advances in the industry.
Additionally, there are some hurdles to overcome in terms of qualifying the quality of 3D printed products in line with specific industry standards. This issue only becomes greater as most of the high added value use of AM, are for low-volume high mix production. Finally and perhaps most importantly, to increase the popularity of 3D printing there needs to be an overall reduction of cost. While undoubtedly intuitive, the tech still remains outside the price range for the majority of customers.”
It’s clear that the standardization and recognition of trading standards for 3D printed products is imperative to help identify quality, especially if they are being used in potentially dangerous machinery.
In spite of these obstacles, 3D printing technology has a plethora of utilities from retail, to confectionary, to construction projects in the third world or even automobiles. This adoption will only continue to grow as the cost of the technology decreases.
“Some industries have already made drastic changes thanks to AM with more likely to follow. In healthcare for example, we see the application of 3D printing in many different areas such as hearing aids or dentistry. In this case it’s highly likely that in a few years from now you won’t have a single orthopaedic aligner not produced by AM. The same can be said for the aerospace industry, who invested hundreds of millions in 3D printing to help develop their next generation of products for the coming decade.”
3D printing is clearly going to be a vital piece of technology for the future, with substantial uses already being exploited. For now, 3D printing has its limits, but we are closer than you may think to fully capable personal 3D printers. A sentiment echoed by Colin.
“For now I would leave the production to be handled by the professionals. Saying that, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day we all had 3D printers in a similar way to how many of us have had colour printers for the past 10 years.”
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