Although additive manufacturing is being adopted by several industries of late, the technology has its roots in the late 80s. Hideo Kodama from Japan is the unofficial father of 3D printing, as he came up with the idea of creating 3D products through layer-by-layer manufacturing but failed to patent it. It was the French General Electric Company and CILAS that first devised a way to create 3D printed objects. Somewhere in 1986, Charles Hull, an American engineer, created a prototype for SLA or stereolithography by using photopolymers and UV light to develop 3D-printed objects. He is usually known as the official father of 3D printing.
In the 90s, industry leaders came forward to expand the scope of 3D printing with newer and better technologies and equipment.
Experimentations and advancements paved the way for high-tech 3D printers, thus ultimately commercializing the technology. Further down the years, microcasting and sprayed materials helped the manufacturers 3D-print metal objects, instead of working only with plastic. In the 2000s, AM technology became more mainstream with advancements in equipment and materials. As early patents became obsolete, industries and individual companies came up with innovative processes to take 3D printing a level up. Dr. Adrian Bowyer, an England professor, vowed to develop more cost-effective 3D printers for regular use. His Darwin printer managed to 3D-print about 18% of its components and was available at a pocket-friendly rate of $650 in 2008. Gradually, the technology disrupted the healthcare industry by creating 3D printed limbs and kidneys.
It was not before the last decade that 3D printing became more commonplace for both residential and commercial uses. Standalone shops started manufacturing spare parts using the technology, as more portable printers became widely available. It led to a reduction in inventory space, thus helping the manufacturers lower additional costs of storing machine parts. This phase came to be known as The Maker Revolution, as small-scale companies no longer depended on other firms for the spare parts of their equipment. Startups became more self-sufficient with this advanced and empowering technology that encouraged innovation and leveraged the creativity of the engineers to the T.
During the pandemic that broke out in 2020, 3D printing revealed its true potential by helping manufacturers combat the shortage of protective equipment and other materials required in the healthcare industry, like testing kits, training objects, 3D-printed isolation facilities, and so on. Even as the FDA is keeping a close watch on all 3D printed medical objects, it has approved the consumer use of such materials on a decent scale.
So, what do you think was the biggest breakthrough in the world of 3D printing? We will discuss the same in this post. But before that, you need to get some clarity into the technology and its current status. So, here goes!
The current status of 3D printing in every industry
In 2020, the technology was hailed as a life savvier in the testing times by many industries, especially the healthcare sector. It helped them utilize all existing resources and combat the pandemic in an economically downgrading world. However, the other sectors, like aerospace, electronics, food, fashion, and consumer goods are not too behind as well. They are also making the most of the futuristic technology to improve the current situation and raise their bottom line. As 3D printing is quite affordable than traditional manufacturing processes, it is a feasible option for many sectors to fight the financial crunch.
Let us talk in detail about the current state of the technology and its impact on some industries:
Construction and real estate
As 3D printing helps develop complex geometrics, required in some structures, like thin walls and cavities with complicated angles and curves, it is being widely adopted by the construction sector. These architectural challenges can be overcome easily with AM technology and in lesser time as well. Besides, the real estate developers are also planning to cash in on the concept of 3D printed houses to resolve the housing crisis in developing countries. These houses are said to be stronger, more durable, eco-friendly, and weather-resistant than our regular homes.
Fashion and food
The value of the global 3D food printing market is expected to reach $412.3 million by 2027. The technology is used to develop 3D food ingredients and also transform algae, certain insects, and plant products into beneficial proteins, keeping the tastes and textures the same. Bakeries, retail stores, confectionaries, and other sectors are planning to use the technology to their advantage and up the production. It will not be long before you can find 3D-printed burgers and steaks in the local cafes.
In fashion, 3D printing is setting new examples by helping manufacturers develop customized shoes and clothing, both trendier and more durable than their traditional peers. From material expansion to design freedom, the technology is providing manufacturers a new scope to take their production lines a notch up. 3D printing is also helping the fashion industry create new trends regularly without investing too much time or resources.
Freight and transport
The aircraft industry has been using this technology for quite some time now. It helps create spare parts, lightweight components in a jiffy, thus reducing the need for expensive resources and materials. It has also helped the industry overcome the challenges of post-production transport and storage of materials, thus reducing the need for inventory space. With the manufacture of transporting containers and other related items by 3D printing, the industry has managed to cut down some of its spending’s to a great extent. Container businesses are, in fact, thriving due to the latest developments.
A few accomplishments in 3D printing in the last five years
The last five years, no doubt, have been quite a revolution for the technology, with many sectors shedding prejudices to adapt to the trend. Some of the biggest innovations made possible with the technology have been listed below:
Prosthetic parts of the body
Prostheses have been quite expensive before, but thanks to 3D printing, not anymore. The technology has helped manufacturers develop custom and open-source prosthetic legs, hands, and other parts of the body at much lower costs. Even prosthetic facial features can be developed using the technology without spending a fortune. Several third-party companies and engineers have come forward to make these products commercially available for amputees, all because of the widespread adoption of 3D printing.
Surgical implants and guides
Additive manufacturing has made its mark in reconstructive surgeries by helping manufacturers develop implants and surgical guides in no time. Using the SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) technology, high-precision and customized implants are now being developed extensively. These products have complex internal geometries that would have taken a long time to create using traditional methods, not to mention expenses. The titanium implants developed by this technology have the added advantage of sturdiness and high compatibility. They are custom-fit, thus reducing the chances of loosening and falling off. 3D printed anatomical structures are also being developed to help surgeons get a better idea about the intricacies of the patient’s anatomy before major surgery.
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a rise in demand for isolation shelters for infected people. The additive manufacturing technology helped real estate developers set up such emergency shelters within a short span. These shelters can be created within a few days, sometimes, in a few hours too. For example, the University of Nantes researchers worked on a 3D printed system that can help develop such shelters with polyutherene foam using a robotic arm.
The biggest breakthroughs anticipated changing the world of 3D printing
Besides the current accomplishments, both manufacturers and researchers are anticipating some more breakthroughs in this field in the coming days. For example, metal printers will replace the existing plastic ones to reduce waste and enhance the production of lightweight machines and automobile parts. Jewelry, kitchenware, and other domestic items will also be created faster with these advanced metal 3D printers. The consumer goods sector will leverage this technology, thus enhancing the flexibility of design and affordability.
Another breakthrough will be the incorporation of 3D printing in space technology. NASA is planning to set up 3D printing systems in space to help improve the chances of successful space missions. When you are up there, everything should be made available to you, and the additive manufacturing systems can ensure that. It may be a tad difficult to predict the issues that one may experience once in space. With the 3D printing systems in place, one can get all spare parts and other items developed within a jiffy. It will also reduce a load of space shuttles and satellites, as one need not take everything from here. As the technology can help develop lightweight products, it will be highly beneficial to space scientists and explorers.
Challenges of 3D printing in the future
Despite the advancements, there will be some challenges in scaling 3D printing, according to the researchers. Let us give you some idea regarding the same:
- Material diversity – There are still some limitations to the types of materials used in 3D printing. More expansion is required in this field with more advanced machines to print diverse materials.
- Post-processing needs – Till now, the post-processing needs of 3D printed products are high due to material inconsistencies and accuracy. Care should be taken that the products do not warp or get distorted due to applied stress.
- Software limitations – With the main focus on production speed and costs, manufacturers are ignoring the challenges of software limitations which can affect quality and design. More intelligent software systems need to be developed to overcome this challenge.
- Quality assurance – Owing to a lack of knowledge and expertise in the field, not all products come out of the printer as expected. The engineers need to leverage the full potential of the technology to resolve this issue.
- Lack of proper planning – The technology is still in its nascent stages with a lack of proper planning, which ultimately affects the execution of the process. More experts need to be employed to provide a deeper insight into the field so that manufacturers can make the best use of the technology.
How Additive Accelerator can help improve the situation
At Additive Accelerator, our seasoned experts possess all know-hows of the technology, its nuances, and benefits. We are adept at suggesting feasible 3D printing solutions for all sectors, be it healthcare, real estate, and consumer goods, aerospace, automobile, fashion, or food. You can utilize our knowledge and experience to develop your additive manufacturing endeavor and execute it successfully. Further, we also have extensive knowledge about advanced 3D printing systems to help you choose the best one for your specific project requirements.