Technology often simmers along for a while before it ignites. That’s certainly been the case for 3D printing. Although it’s slowly evolved over the past 30 years, I believe 2017 is the year we will see it transform many parts of our lives. Consider what has become possible recently:
- 3D printing in space, with scientists on the International Space Station 3D printing maintenance tools
- Bio-printing of bones, cartilage and muscle; Chinese scientists announced they have successfully implanted 3D-printed blood vessels in monkeys, paving the way for 3D printable organs
- Buses and buildings (needless to say, some assembly required)
Customization is a big driver in the mainstream. Think of all the things that don’t tend to fit precisely – shoes, headphones, clothes, etc. Now imagine them 3D printed, just for you, in a design you’ve chosen or even created.
But 3D is about far more than products – it has the potential to transform businesses, geographical challenges and entire supply chains. When it takes less time to design and manufacture products, when you don’t need warehouses for inventory, when spare parts can be printed on demand – we are going to see some very wide-sweeping changes indeed.
The future’s bright for 3D printing
I often talk to people who find it hard to get their heads around how 3D printing works. It is pretty spectacular. But it’s really a matter of input and output – instead of ink, in goes a variety of materials and out comes anything from metal parts to gem quality diamonds to food.
3D printing is the most advanced in aerospace and defense, where major manufacturers are using it to print parts faster, which are lighter (creating huge savings in fuel costs) and less wasteful. Maturity in this industry shows what is possible – and the newest generation of designers and engineers is far more familiar with 3D printing.