These days when you do search engine news search for “printing,” odds are you are going to get a lot of stories about 3D printing. Known officially as additive manufacturing, 3D printing has been around for at least three decades but only recently has it become mainstream. According to Forbes, this once highly guarded manufacturing process will be a $3.1 billion industry by 2016, and by 2020, it will be worth a staggering $5.2 billion. One of the main reasons for the growth spurt revolves around the idea that 3D printing has the ability to play a major role in how industries will manufacture in the future. The breadth and width of the product possibilities is almost endless, including auto parts, prosthetic “robohands,” and even bases on the moon!
While some of the more futuristic uses are just that, in the future, there are plenty of practical uses for the technology right now. Companies, both big and small, are using 3D printing to create both plastic and metal prototypes. There is also a burgeoning market for larger machines that will be perfect for mass customization and ultra-precise manufacturing, as seen in this article.
The real key for any new technology is monetization. If 3D printing is not cost-effective on both a large and small scale, it will remain a niche industry. In fact, some experts believe that as 3D printing becomes faster and cheaper, it has the ability to eliminate the need for mass production. Companies will no longer be locked into production schedules, so products can be designed and manufactured in a matter of hours instead of months. The possibilities are truly overwhelming.
There is no guarantee that 3D printing will radically change the world of manufacturing, but it is clear that something big is underway—we are just making sure to pay attention.