Manufacturing The Future: 10 Trends To Come In 3D Printing
Guest post written by Vivek Srinivasan and Jarrod Bassan
December 7, 2012
Once considered science fiction, the ability to do 3D printing – to produce objects on demand at relatively low cost – has become a reality. And the trend is going to pick up steam in 2013. Here’s a look at 10 trends to watch in 3D printing next year and beyond.
- 3D printing becomes industrial strength. Once reserved for prototypes and toys, 3D printing will become industrial strength. You will take a flight on an airliner that includes 3D-printed components, making it lighter and more fuel efficient. In fact, there are aircrafts that already contain some 3D-printed components. The technology will also start to be adopted for the direct manufacture of specialist components in industries like defense and automotive. Overall, the number of 3D printed parts in planes, cars and even appliances will increase without you knowing.
- 3D printing starts saving lives. 3D-printed medical implants will improve the quality of life of someone close to you. Because 3D printing allows products to be custom-matched to an exact body shape, it is being used today for making better titanium bone implants, prosthetic limbs and orthodontic devices. Experiments in printing soft tissue are underway, and may soon allow printed veins and arteries to be used in operations. Today’s research into medical applications of 3D printing covers nano-medicine, pharmaceuticals and even printing of organs. Taken to the extreme, 3D printing could one day enable custom medicines and reduce if not eliminate the organ donor shortage.
- Customization becomes the norm. You will buy a product, customized to your exact specifications, which is 3D-printed and delivered to your doorstep. Innovative companies will use 3D printing technologies to give themselves a competitive advantage by offering customization at the same price as their competitor’s standard products. At first this may range from novelty items like custom smartphone cases or ergonomic improvements to standard tools, but it will rapidly expand to new markets. The leaders will adjust their sales, distribution and marketing channels to take advantage of their capability to provide customization direct to the customer. Customization will also play a big role in healthcare devices such as 3D-printed hearing aids and artificial limbs.
- Product innovation is faster. Everything from new car models to better home appliances will be designed more rapidly, bringing innovation to you faster. Because rapid prototyping using 3D printers reduces the time to turn a concept into a production-ready design, it allows designers to focus on the function of products. Although the use of 3D printing for rapid prototyping is not new, the rapidly decreasing cost, improved design software and increasing range of printable materials means designers will have more access to printers, allowing them to innovate faster by 3D printing an object early in the design phase, modifying it, re-printing it, and so on. The result will be better products, designed faster.
- New companies develop innovative business models built on 3D printing. You will invest in a 3D printing company’s IPO. Start-up companies will flourish as a generation of innovators, hackers and “makers” take advantage of the capabilities of 3D printing to create new products or deliver services to the burgeoning 3D printer market. Some enterprises will fail, and there may be a boom-bust cycle, but 3D printing will spawn new and creative business models.
- 3D print shops open at the mall. 3D print shops will begin to appear, at first servicing local markets with high-quality 3D printing services. Initially designed to service rapid-prototyping and other niche capabilities, these shops will branch into the consumer marketplace. As retailers begin to “ship the design, not the product,” the local 3D print shop will one day be where you pick up your customized, locally manufactured products, just like you pick up your printed photos from the local Walmart today.
- Heated debates on who owns the rights emerge. As manufacturers and designers start to grapple with the prospect of their copyrighted designs being replicated easily on 3D printers, there will be high-profile test cases over the intellectual property of physical object designs. Just like file-sharing sites shook the music industry because they made it easy to copy and share music, the ability to easily copy, share, modify and print 3D objects will ignite a new wave of intellectual property issues.
- New products with magical properties will tantalize us. New products – that can only be created on 3D printers – will combine new materials, nano scale and printed electronics to exhibit features that seem magical compared to today’s manufactured products. These printed products will be desirable and have distinct competitive advantage. The secret sauce is that 3D printing can control material as it is printed, right down to the molecules and atoms. As today’s research is perfected into tomorrow’s commercially available printers, expect exciting and desirable new products with amazing capabilities. The question is: What are these products and who will be selling them?
- New machines grace the factory floor. Expect to see 3D printing machines appearing in factories. Already some niche components are produced more economically on 3D printers, but this is only on a small scale. Many manufacturers will begin experimenting with 3D printing for applications outside of prototyping. As the capabilities of 3D printers develop and manufacturers gain experience in integrating them into production lines and supply chains, expect hybrid manufacturing processes that incorporate some 3D-printed components. This will be further fueled by consumers desiring products that require 3D printers for their manufacture.
- “Look what I made!” Your children will bring home 3D printed projects from school. Digital literacy – including Web and app development, electronics, collaboration and 3D design – will be supported by 3D printers in schools. A number of middle schools and high schools already have 3D printers. As 3D printing costs continue to fall, more schools will sign on. Digital literacy will be about things as well as bits.
Vivek Srinivasan is the Australia regional manager for CSC’s Leading Edge Forum and Jarrod Bassan is a senior consultant with CSC in Australia. The two recently published a report entitled 3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing.