The first commercially available 3D printer was the SLA-1, available in 1987. In the nearly four decades since, 3D printing has become universally adopted for commercial, personal, and educational use, and the advancement of the next 40 years is going to be exponentially faster.
The better and more diverse the 3D printers on the market become, the more subsequent growth we will see across industries – from aerospace to the arts. The future will see 3D printers joining the Internet of Things, disrupting economies, and pushing the limits of human creation.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
As the world moves towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it means we will see looser boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds. In addition to AI, robotics, genetic engineering, and the Internet of Things, 3D printing will be a massive part of this revolution, and 3D printing jobs will be highly in-demand. 3D printers will become bigger, faster, able to use multiple materials, and operable in the field. Manufacturing stands to be disrupted the most as 3D printing will introduce reduced lead times, more customizations, and less waste.
In any supply chain, maintaining physical inventory and shipping issues are weak points. In an integrated supply chain, where an aggregate platform can be controlled from design to delivery, the production process becomes faster, cheaper, and more resilient. This won’t work, however, without greater cooperation across industries, and interoperability of 3D printers between themselves and other machines.
The more pervasive 3D printing becomes, the more sustainable design and production become. Additive manufacturing is generally less wasteful than traditional manufacturing as you are not left with the scraps. In product development, designs can be iterated to perfection without material waste. In inventory maintenance, print-on-demand parts will allow companies to reduce their stock on hand and avoid overproduction.
Material developments will also push sustainability – 3D printers can reuse plastic wastes into new materials, and the development of bio-polymers for 3D printing is removing plastic from the equation altogether.
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Innovation Across Industries
Apart from manufacturing, all industries stand to advance with the application of 3D printing. The use of 3D printers allows for wild new approaches to design, greater affordability, and reduced lead times. For the aerospace and automotive industries, there were designs for parts that previously could not be made as they were too small, too complicated, or used difficult materials. Now, 3D printing is allowing for engine and body parts to be made smaller, stronger, and lighter. In healthcare, 3D printing is at the forefront of regenerative medicine. Creating the substrate rhCollagen allows for the 3D printing of artificial body tissues. Previously inoperable conditions will be able to be treated. In the arts, we will be able to explore the limits of imagination with metamaterials created to have properties that do not occur naturally.
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Security and Data Ownership
Information security is already a growing concern within the Internet of Things, and 3D printing may add some new headaches. Proprietary designs stand at risk of being stolen and reproduced, 3D printers could be hacked and operated illegally, and data ownership becomes contentious. Can a manufacturing partner reprint a previously contracted design for a new use? In healthcare use cases, there are always the ever-present restrictions of HIPAA. Moreover, there’s the issue of quality control. Will all 3D printers produce the same uniform, fit-for-purpose parts? It’s evident that a code of standards and security practices need to be created.
If you want to be a part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution but don’t know where to start, contact us to learn more about the world of 3D printing!