3D Printing has been around for quite a long time now. However, the technology wasn’t in the limelight a few years back. Only after the patents expired, 3D printing gained popularity in the consumer market. And, the trend seems to only surge with time. From merely a prototyping tool, these 3D printers have evolved to be able to construct homes. Well, that might sound fascinating, and we have only scratched the surface of what lies beyond. There is more that is possible with this technology.
Before we dive into the future, let us check the way 3D printing works and has been impacting everyone around.
What Is 3D Printing?
Also known as additive manufacturing technology, 3D printing is a process of creating parts, one layer at a time. Although there are various forms of technology, the basic working of these remains the same.
For instance, in order to print objects, one must design 3D printer files which act as the blueprints of the 3D models. The printers create objects using the additive method using these files. And hence the name.
After printing, these 3D objects require some post-processing methods to enhance their looks and strength further.
Where Does 3D Printing Stand Currently?
Did you know that 3D printing development dates back to the late 20th century? The first 3D printing process was invented by Charles Hull, who came up with stereolithography in 1984. However, for years, the process wasn’t even known to a lot of people. This was due to the patents that shuttered the technology’s reach to just a few handfuls of industries.
Later, after the expiry of these patents, additive manufacturing (AM) technology started intriguing consumers. To further its reach, another humble innovation was born, the Internet.
When looking at the current scenario, a few forms of 3D printing processes remain strictly within the walls of industries and professional applications. Thankfully, we can easily access most of these forms for simple use. For instance, using affordable Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printers, users can create toys, miniatures, lamps, spare parts, and more.
Not just that, stereolithography (SLA), only available for industrial use a few years back, is now accessible to consumers. Likewise, machines based on Carbon3D’s patented CLIP technology, such as Formlabs Form 2, which is from the SLA family, are becoming common among end-users too.
Hence, we can deem that 3D printing is becoming common among more individuals over time. Already leaving the adoption lifecycle much behind, 3D printing is now progressing towards the early adopters’ phase through the innovation of consumer machines.
The Future of 3D Printing beyond 2021: What to Expect
Diversified 3D Printing Landscape
The number of players present in the market of 3D printing is continuously increasing. Every year Formnext, i.e., the event attracting 3D printing presenters from all over the world, increases more and more exhibitors than its previous year. This means that newer companies enter the market as start-ups and spinoffs aiming at newer technologies than the existing ones.
Some examples of the same are:
- Spectroplast, which aims to take huge leaps with silicone 3D printing.
- One-Click Metal is a developer of a low-cost laser powder bed fusion 3D printer.
- Evolve Additive Solutions, which is a spinoff of Stratasys that has brought in an entirely new 3D printing process based on electrophotography.
In the coming year, the number of companies is bound to grow even more, and so the current landscape of 3D printing will get even more diversified.
3D Printing Software Evolution
Software, on the other hand, has been a little out of the limelight lately. The complete responsibility of the end-part or functional prototype is on the 3D printing software. Since the 3D printing software is the key element for creating quality 3d printer files, it’s necessary that the software processing is simplified than what it is right now.
Only if more and more software tools for designing become easier and more intuitive is when a greater number of people will use it. So, the design phase is definitely going to come to a highlight which will lead to a faster and easier 3D printing design process.
Huge Range of Application-Specific Materials
The most common challenges in completely adopting 3D printing are a) material cost and b) availability. The first challenge is going to remain as it is for a while, at the least. But, as there are going to be more companies in the market, there are going to be more application-specific materials. So, the cost will be indirectly reduced.
And a classic example of this is how Jabil – a 3D printing material manufacturing giant, opened its Material Innovation center to ensure a decent range of materials is brought into place. On one side, manufacturers such as Jabil are putting in an end-to-end facility for developing and testing polymer 3D printing powders. On the other hand, major material producers like BASF and GKN Additive are converting themselves into solution producers.
All in all, there is a great scope for new application-specific materials to pop up now and then!
Growth in Composite 3D Printing
There is an inherent advantage of using Composites for 3D printing. They are:
- Light in weight.
- High strength.
- Applicable in aerospace, automotive, oil, gas as well as industrial goods.
When converted into parts or functional prototypes using 3D printing, composites streamline the technology and cut the manufacturing cost. Companies such as Fortify and Impossible Objects have already raised millions of dollars to fund Composite 3D printing technology to manufacture ambitious projects such as Bike Frames.
Also, Desktop Metal has moved into the composite space by launching its Fiber 3D printers. Moreover, there have been many collaborations between hardware and material companies aimed at developing composite 3D printing.
Automated Post-Processing Will Become a Mandate
Already in 2020, there were many efforts to convert the extremely painstaking manual post-processing to an automatic one. In 2021 and beyond, these efforts are bound to move forward with even greater force. Specifically, post-processing equipment manufacturers such as AMT, DyeMansion, and PostProcess Technologies are on the verge of automating support removal cleaning as well as coloring polymer-based 3D printed parts.
Taking that and other factors into account, the post-processing equation should completely change by the end of next year or two. This will specifically help manufacturers in the field of 3D printing to decrease their overall production time.
The coming years will lead to the industrialization of 3D printing. From 3D printing files to the resources bringing designs to reality will evolve to a bigger scale. We currently have injection molding or other specific manufacturing industries, and advancements are going to grow! The competitiveness will increase not only on the hardware side of it but also on the software side of it.
And like every other manufacturing technology’s expansion, 3D printing’s growth will drive us to associate it more and more with our everyday life. Which, in turn, would lead us to find more applications of the same.