By Mario McKellop
Since going mainstream the 2000s, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has been a technology that has struggled to come into maturity. For most of the last two decades, 3D printing has been viewed as a novelty, capable of producing unusual and appealing toys and accessories, but its utility to consumers was hampered by high costs and a lack of user-friendliness.
However, recent technological advancements have positioned additive manufacturing as a major force of innovation across several different sectors.
One such advancement is automated 3D printing. In recent years, a number of companies have found remarkable success by developing robotic cells that can continuously 3D print products with human interaction. As a result, additive firms like Voodoo Manufacturing have been able to triple their output will also achieving a return on investment for their new equipment in as little as six months.
Consequently, the technology now has the potential to be a more efficient and cost-effective alternative to injection molding and significantly disrupt the $12 trillion manufacturing industry. And as scientists, engineers and technologists develop more efficient robotic 3D printers, additive manufacture will only become more attractive to the marketplace.
Industry experts have also noted that various governmental agencies are making increasing use of 3D printing. For instance, a division of the US Department of Energy (DOE) recently revealed that it had been developing processes to eliminate defects in 3D printed metals. The reason being, the DOE foresees 3D printing as playing a key role in providing innovative manufacturing solutions in the United States.
In October, the DOE launched a contest seeking innovative designs for new 3D printed solid-state lighting materials and disaster response components. Furthermore, the agency stated that future contests centered on innovations in the building and vehicle technology will also be forthcoming. Moreover, the DOE has partnered with government departments and private companies to create 3D printed construction equipment, wind energy converters and Navy vessels.
Experts have also predicted that the future, the 3D printing industry will move away from developing new types of printers and toward developing new applications for existing tech.
For instance, one major research area is healthcare. Recently, scientists and doctors have had success using existing additive manufacturing tech to do everything from creating skin grafts to fabricating new organs to custom-tailored prosthetics.
There is also mounting evidence to support the notion that 3D printing will revolutionize housing on a worldwide scale. A San Francisco-based charity recently proved that it could 3D print totally functional 600 to 800 square foot homes in 24 hours for $4,000 apiece. Similarly, a Russian company recently unveiled a 3D printer that can fabricate an ultra-durable 400 square foot home in less than a day for just over $10,000.
Given the significant amount of governmental and commercial interest in utilizing 3D printing as a solution for optimizing manufacturing, improving healthcare and addressing the global housing crisis, it’s a sector with incredible growth potential. Consequently, additive manufacture is a field that will likely have an increasing need for lots of skilled workers and experts with backgrounds in STEAM.