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What is happening in the 3D printing industry?

In 2020, the market for 3D printing was valued at 12.6 billion USD and it is expected to grow, according to market and consumer data experts, Statista. Although there may not have been an apocalyptic style takeover of 3D printers, as was predicted five years ago, it seems 3D printing is still making waves, with specialists like Protolabs offering a multitude of different 3D printing services.

3D printing adds another dimension to TV

The worlds of entertainment, food and medicine have also adopted the technology more and more, hungry for the improved sustainability, efficiencies and innovation it still promises. This month, alongside the global intrigue with Korean Netflix’s fictional series, Squid Game, where contestants take part in a survival competition to save themselves from financial ruin, came the demand for Squid Game masks. This trend has lit the world of 3D printing alight with the production of 3D printed masks and other 3D printed Squid game designs available to buy and make yourself if you have a 3D printer.

Similarly, we have also recently seen the creation of a fully 3D printed life-size Iron man costume created by UK based data engineer, Adam Willoughby. The Marvel costume has its own J.A.R.V.I.S system with sounds and lights, and is made from biodegradable plastic replete with its own wireless network allowing different parts of the costume to communicate with each other.

Movements in medicine

3D printing is continuing to make progress in medicine too, with the sector accounting for 15% of total 3D printing revenue, making it the third largest market for 3D printing. Already used extensively for the production of hearing aids and dental care there has also been significant developments in 3D printed organ transplant research.

Studies into the use of 3D printing for organ transplants has been around for some time already. As far back as the nineties, medical researchers were looking into biomaterials that could be used via 3D printing, and the first human organ (a bladder) was successfully transplanted using the cells from the recipient in 1999.

Today, we are seeing even greater strides with Israeli researchers from the Israel Institute of Technology announcing a breakthrough in producing small and large sized, functional blood vessels through 3D printing tech. The size of the vessels is critical in successfully transporting oxygen and other nutrients to all organs and tissues.

Further afield in space, other scientists have been looking at other ways to improve the success of organ transplants. For example, printing living tissue in space, as demonstrated by NASA astronaut and former US military doctor, Andrew Morgan. Furthermore, this year, $1.2 million was raised in a new start-up for the creation of a new bio printing technology which the company, Brinter, hopes will allow bio printing to become more accessible to pharmaceutical companies and other medical institutions.

The evolution of 3D printing in manufacturing

But despite the impressive advances in entertainment and medicine, 3D printing’s progress in manufacturing is perhaps the most significant, yet understated success. The benefits of reducing investments in expensive tooling used in traditional manufacturing are well versed.

Factories can increase capacity and flexibility for a demanding market place, there are greater possibilities for the personalisation of products, and the use of less resources and more localised production equate to improved sustainability.

According to ‘3D Printing: The Next Revolution in Industrial Manufacturing’ – a research report from UPS and the Consumer Technology Association, two-thirds of manufacturers already use 3D printing in their production operations, and a quarter have plans to adopt it in the future. The main reasons for its uptake are related to prototyping, product development and innovation. Automotive, and consumer electronics account for a significant portion of 3D printing revenue and some smart phone manufacturers are gradually using 3D printing more to produce component parts.

Along with other Industry 4.0 technologies like IoT, automation, machine learning and connectivity, 3D printing is also moving with pace, as demonstrated this month when Global suppliers of additive manufacturing systems, Optomec, delivered an AM system valued at $1 million for production repair of aircraft turbine components to one of its customers. Reported in TCT magazine, the machine will combine two turbine repair processes that are usually performed manually, to help reduce costs and improve quality.

In conclusion…

3D printing is becoming more prevalent across not just entertainment, medicine and manufacturing spheres, but also arts, food and construction industries. Its success is set to continue alongside developments in Industry 4.0, and as a result of progress in production speed its ability to produce products on a much larger scale is expected. The technology’s use with more diverse materials in the future will likely open up possibilities for other sectors and contribute to its continued growth.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the management of EconoTimes

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