3D Printing Disrupts Industrial and Medical Tech


3D printing has been around for several decades, but recently expiring patents are driving 3D printing costs down and major 3D printing tech breakthroughs are driving up speed at which 3D printing is adopted into the manufacturing processes. The combination is about to move 3D printing from a fun toy to one of the hottest industrial and medical trends.

Traditional manufacturing has been subtractive, with metal, wood or other materials being cut, drilled and ground for at least 15,000 years. But 3D printing is additive, building a part by adding plastic and metal layer by layer by layer. According to Stratfor Global Intelligence, it is the difference between breaking down versus building up products.

Research and technology in additive manufacturing is moving up the complexity chain from plastics, to metals, and then to ceramics. The unique business opportunity for additive manufacturing is that very complex internal structures, such as the grains in wood and honeycomb structure of bone, which have been almost impossible to replicate, can now be manufactured.

Consumer goods production has led the way in additive manufacturing. 3D printers can now make on toys the spot that match your child's face or have some type of other unique personalization. Additive manufacturing can meet the requirement of repeatability to maximize performance and product fit.

Speed has been one of the the major issues preventing additive manufacturing in heavy industry, which needs to consider time, size and scale of production. It is theoretically possible to 3D print commercial office towers. A really big printer could produce steel beam skeletons and ceramic walls, but economies of scale have favored traditional subtractive manufacturing methods.

But scientists are develpoing new technologies that can leverage the big advantage of 3D printin, that it lets users easily customize or tweak designs by making changes to software, rather than building new manufacturing machines, to mass produce consumer products.

The US, Germany and the UK are the global leaders in 3D printing, but China has pledged hundreds of billions of dollars toward developing new 3D printing technologies. With the speed of development, 3D printing may soon be a spectacularly disruptive technology.



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