3D Printing – Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2015

Gartner recently released their top technology trends for 2015 and on that was list was 3D printing technology.  According to Gartner:

3D printing will reach a tipping point over the next three years as the market for relatively low-cost 3D printing devices continues to grow rapidly and industrial use expands significantly.

So what is 3D Printing?

3D printing is a process for making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many successive thin layers of a material.

Don’t think of this as printing on a sheet of paper, but a machine that can create a physical, 3-dimensional object. It is not surprising that many people have not yet heard about 3D printing.

3D Printing and the Enterprise

3D printing has been used in the enterprise for quite a while.  One of the main uses for 3D printing is for rapid modeling.  3D printers allow engineers and product designers the ability to quickly take a design from concept to physical object in a very rapid and inexpensive manner.  What used to take much time and money can now be completed in a timely manner and iterated upon multiple times.

An Example of 3D printing in the enterprise:

Nike has reported to using 3D printers to create colored prototypes of shoes. Nike used to have to spend thousands of dollars on a prototype and wait weeks or months for it. With 3D printing, the cost is only in the hundreds of dollars, and changes can be made instantly on the computer and the prototype reprinted on the same day.

3D Printing for the Consumer

At the present time, 3D printing is not at all wide-spread in the consumer market.  The prices of the printers are just too high and there is little need for 3D printers in the home.  However, as prices lower and the technology becomes more and more mainstream we will see smaller printers at a price point that consumers can afford.  Once this happens, new markets will definitely open up.

3D Printing at Home Vision

Imagine, if you will, when 3D printers become mainstream.  You are a parent and your child gets a new toy for Christmas.  You tear open the box only to realize the toy is missing a part!  You can hop online, purchase a one-time digital schematic of the missing part and “print” the part right from your home 3D printer.

This example would not only be limited to toys, but many different types of plastic parts for everyday objects in your home.

3D Printing and BioTechnology

If you have ever watched Grey’s Anatomy, you have seen the doctors “printing” portal veins and hearts.  While that is just TV fluff, real bio technology companies are definitlely working on this – for real – in the real world!

As early as 2010 3D printing technology was being studied by biotechnology companies and universities for possible use in tissue engineering applications – this means they were researching how 3D printers could be utilized to actually “print” entire organs and other body parts.  In this application, layers of living cells are deposited onto a gel medium and slowly built up to form three dimensional structures.

You may have heard of this being referred to as:

  • organ printing
  • bio-printing
  • computer-aided tissue engineering.

3D Printing In The Aerospace Industry

Recently, NASA’s rocket engine injector made from a 3D printer passed a major hot fire test. In the test, the rocket engine injector generated 10 times more thrust than any injector made from 3D printing in the past.

NASA is also reported as going to be sending a 3D printer into outer space as part of a plan to set up a “mini factory” at the International Space Station (ISS). If astronauts run out of tools, they would simply be able to print out more. Astronauts would no longer have to carry spare parts for each mission.

3D Printed Prosthetics

Imagine being to 3D print prosthetic limbs that were printed to the exact specifications of the person requiring them! As your body changes you could just “print” a new prosthetic limb.

As you can see, 3D printing, as it matures, is going to completely change the way the world works.  Manufacturing physical products may no longer be required.  You may no longer need warehouses full of inventory as one could seemingly “print” the orders as they came in and ship them the same day.  The possibilities are endless and I’m excited to see where this takes us.

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