Three-dimensional printing is the creation of an object using a very clever machine. But 3D printing isn’t a new technology; it actually goes as far back as the mid-1980s. The basic process was created by a man called Chuck Hull who worked for a large specialist company called 3D Systems. The process involved several layers of UV lasered photopolymers, or as Chuck described “creating a cross-sectional pattern”. Since then 3D printing has been used by many different industries such as architecture, military, fashion, automotive and engineering, to name but a few.
But what makes 3D printing so attractive? Well in 2012 it was estimated that the market for 3D printers was worth over $2.2 billion worldwide. This is a giant increase of 29% on the previous year and has grown even further since. There are no real limits as to what can be created with a 3D printer, new technologies allow us to even create functioning objects such as whistles, shoes and even guns. Analysts from Gartner have estimated that more than 2 million 3D printers will be sold in 2018, according to latest statistics. It could also reach a staggering $10 billion in the next four years if 3D printing companies play their cards right.
Despite public reservations from 3D printing specialist, Arnaud Gagneux, it seems that 3D printing isn’t far away from becoming not just a consumer good but a high street product. The only downfall is the price, as these high tech machines cost hundreds, the average Joe would have no real need or use for them quite yet. Not only this but there are several property rights to be had when printing what you want in 3D. A good example of this being Square Enix, an established gaming company, who forced one unfortunate company to remove 3D Models being sold of a Final Fantasy character. The same happened when Games Workshop forced Thingiverse to remove a 3D printed miniature.
So there are some noticeable snags for the future of 3D printing, property rights being up top but also being followed by lower demands and higher prices. But it’s not all just for fun, 3D printing is making a huge impact within the world of medicine. In 2014 you can have your joints replaced, get great false teeth fitted and even replace whole bones. IDTechEx analysts predict that by 2025 the medical and dental market for 3D printers will grow by a jaw-dropping 365%. This doesn’t even include bio-printing, a new kind of 3D printing which can allow us to make pieces of kidney, liver and skin using living cells.
However, all of these are just predictions and aren’t set in stone. We can only hope for these targets to be reached, but for now, 3D printing will remain most popular within the automotive industry, where the technology is used to create prototypes and car parts. Maybe one-day 3D printing will walk its way into our homes and be commonly used in schools and hospitals.