It has taken more than 3 decades for 3D printing technology to rise from its slumber, ever since Chuck Hall, in 1983, invented this simple and unconventional way of making objects. Yes, it may come as a shock to many that the “latest” craze in tech circles, 3D printing aka additive manufacturing (AM) is more than 30 years old technology.
In the last 5 years, the IoT (Internet of things) movement has led to a great awareness of this intriguing field which is poised to disrupt the future. Let’s explore the fascinating possibilities of what 3D printing can do and affect our mainstream life as we look at the road ahead.
In a recent PwC survey of more than 100 industrial manufacturers, two-thirds of them were already using 3D printing.
This number is bound to rise with companies like HP, Boeing and GE leading from the front.
(The graph above has been sourced via Google search)
Medical – Body parts
3D printing of precise custom fit artificial prosthesis is a well established concept over the last decade and has been used in orthopedic, craniofacial and dental field. Currently, great progress has been made in making actual body parts and scaffolds (into which stem cells can grow).
3D printed kidneys, liver cells, blood vessels, skin and bone structure would find applications in actual surgery use and we will see patients walking with live body parts that are custom manufactured for them.
3D printed cadavers will make medical education easy and remove ethico-legal issues of procuring study material in anatomy. Drugs would be tested on 3D printed live tissues and eliminate the ongoing ethical debate over animals being used for testing of medicines.
(Publicly available Deloitte report on Industry where 3D printing technology is used – October 2014)
GE, Boeing and BMW are already using 3D printed parts which have brought down production costs, are lighter in weight and have better fuel efficiency.
Future space expeditions would allow astronauts to carry 3D printers on space shuttles that would enable quick printing of any part that needs to be repaired on the shuttle itself instead of carrying along a huge repository of spare parts.
Lunar mining, a hypothetical idea may enable us to send large 3D printers in space which would harness the lunar soil as raw material and actually form terra for human colonization for the future.
NASA is working on an idea to prepare food on board with the help of 3D printers to feed astronauts and offer them a more robust choice on the long voyages.
There is already a lot of competition in 3D printed chocolates and recently Hershey has announced a partnership with 3D systems to create unique custom made confectioneries. Bio fabrication is the concept of replicating animal cells to, in essence, 'build' edible meat. Currently PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is very much on board with the idea.
It has sponsored a contest to award $1 million to the first scientist to produce and bring to market in-vitro chicken meat.
3D Printed houses
China has already created the world largest 3D printed villa and multi storied apartment – which was 3D printed in quick time. This opens up possibilities of on-site construction of low income, mass scale housing for the developing nations.
3D printed electronics
Integrating grapheme with plastics and custom manufacturing would lead to new generation of integrated circuits and conductors and ushering in a new generation of customized Nano-electronics.
3D printed drones
When two leading technologies combine, the results are astonishing. Southampton university has developed a drone – UAV – unmanned aerial vehicle, that can travel at 9 miles an hour and can be assembled in 10 minutes and remain in air for 30 minutes. It is light weight, strong and can be printed out in a few days. It has large scale applications for deliveries and aerial surveillance in rescue operations, natural calamities and terror operations situations.
3D printed style statements
Fashion industry would undergo a sea change as it sits on a cusp of design revolution today. Full functional 3D printed clothing and accessories like custom fit shoes which reflect your unique style and personality would be mainstream. Personalized jeweler and bespoke products befitting an occasion or a personal style statement would make us more unique than what we are. Musical instruments like guitar, flute and violin would be fully functional and can be custom designed showcasing your creativity.
3D clones of you
The ultimate vanity, the most personal gift item is a 3D selfie – a fully coloured (in 6 million colors) miniature version of you in your unique signature pose. These mini figurines are taking the consumer market by storm and will disrupt the corporate gifting market. People would not print photographs but would actually preserve moments in 3D as souvenirs and hold onto their memories, literally!
Combining the exciting possibilities of this technology with the comfort of home online shopping (Gartner- top USA consulting firm predicts that more and more companies would sell 3D printed parts online), at present there are 7 major players offering products through e-com portal.
The future of this technology is definitely optimistic, favorable and boundless!