The last few years have seen numerous technologies rise and fall, various technologies blossoming, and, last but not least, the birth of future-changing technologies. One of the technologies that fit in the last category is 3D-printing – a technology that is still in its very early stages, yet shows to be very promising, and has the potential of changing the way we build things, whether we’re talking about simple products, cars or even buildings. There are very few technologies that have such a dramatic impact on all other industries, but 3D-printing did it, and we can safely say that the best of this tech is yet to come. Here’s what 2017 has brought so far in the world in 3D-printing, and where it’s all heading.
Cheaper Mainstream Printers
3D printers used to be exotic pieces of equipment up until recently, as the technology is still in its early stages. However, realizing its potential, people tried to make it more easily available by creating simpler 3D printers, and also opting for crowdfunding. Platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been the perfect launching ramps for 3D printers – lots of tech-savvy people that wanted to put down money to fund innovative products. The results are more than obvious: from prices of several thousand dollars, 3D printers have dropped down to only a few hundred dollars nowadays, with the cheapest ready-to-use model being available for roughly $100. There are even cheaper alternatives, but they usually come as DIY kits that you need to assemble yourself. They are still easy and straightforward to build and use, so you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to use such a kit.
Integration in unexpected industries
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While hobby 3D printing is one of the quickest rising segments in 2017, the 3D printing technology is making its way into the industrial segment as well. One interesting sector is the food industry – yes, 3D-printed food exists, and it’s about to become a thing in the not-so-distant future. Don’t expect to be able to use your home-made 3D printer to print your own food (yet), but do expect to see a big boom in food variety thanks to 3D printing.
Another interesting segment where 3D printers are making an entry is the clothing industry. While traditional 3D printing materials such as PLA filament are also used to some degree, they are not the most popular choice for clothing due to their inflexibility – after all, they are a variation of plastic, which is not known for being flexible and thus adequate for clothing. However, a new 3D-printing-friendly material has emerged, called FilaFlex, and it has the necessary qualities needed for a clothing piece, and this is just the beginning.
3D Printing in Automotive Industry
One of the industries that benefited the most out of 3D printing is the automotive industry. Manufacturers have had some rough times creating product prototypes, as they were costly and time-consuming to make, and often ended up being discarded very quickly. Thanks to 3D printing, the process is no longer time consuming nor expensive – a concept can go from sketch to production in a matter of days, as opposed to weeks or months, as it did in the past.
3D printing has improved not only prototyping, but also actual manufacturing, as numerous components can now be 3D printed, allowing for greater flexibility and customizability – terms that had very little to do with the automotive industry in the past.
One somewhat unexpected industry that benefits from 3D printing, and is bound to be revolutionized by it, is the constructions industry. MIT demonstrated a prototype mobile 3D printer capable of printing an igloo-like building in roughly 14 hours. While this was merely a demonstration of their technology, it does truly highlight its potential. Once this technology is ready to go into mass-production and mass use, it can solve housing problems especially in troubled areas, mainly due to its simple and fast building process. The machine itself is fairly reduced in size, can be easily transported and can print a house in less than one day – what more could one ask for?
3D Printing – The Future
Aside from being a highly flexible technology in itself due to its wide range of uses, 3D printing also opens the path to the widespread adoption of adjacent technologies. Modern 3D printers are designed with flexibility and modularity in mind, so don’t be too surprised if a 3D printer also contains a 3D scanner, allowing you to essentially duplicate an object at the touch of a button. By changing the printer’s head with another one that has a different functionality, the system can also perform other operations such as laser marking, CNC operations and much more. Even though what we have seen so far in 2017 alone in the field of 3D printing and its adjacent technologies is impressive as it is, we are pretty sure that the best is yet to come.
By Jason Phillips