What’s the Status

3D printing, this isn’t anything new. We saw this decades ago when Charles Hull brought us the first 3D printer using the stereolithography technique in the mid 80’s. It was largely a commercial technique due to the fact that machines often cost upwards of $100,000+.

The Difference Will be in the Details

30 years later and we’re still finding the technology to be unreliable, slow and expensive. So why are big tech brands buying into 3D printing? 2016 started with a promising look for the industry, this is the year that manufacturing will shine. Aluminum giant, Alcoa announced they have a plan that will lead to better methods for metal 3D printing. The end goal is to create a reliable and cost-effective way to print materials.

Things don’t stop at the larger manufacturing level. If there’s one rule of thumb with 3D printing it’s the “golf ball rule”, if it can fit inside of a golf ball then it’s probably perfect for 3D printing. Think about things like jewelry, hearing aids and dental implants. High value items that need to be made unique to the individual will reign supreme.

We typically see 3D printing used in the medical, aerospace, automotive and engineering field. However, with new advancements in the digital technology the machines may be moving towards more compact units, built for today’s consumer.

How Businesses Feel

An annual report published by Sculpteo has offered some interesting facts regarding the current state of 3D printing. Data for the report was gathered over the course of several months, late January 2016 to late March 2016 and came from 1,000 participants. These participants were from across the globe and came from diverse industries, think consumer goods, industrial manufacturing, high-tech, entertainment, electronics and services.

The results of the survey found that the technology is indeed on the rise within businesses. Average budgets for additive manufacturing technology and services have risen to $6,132 in 2016 from $3,736 in 2015. Overall, 77% of participants said they planned to increase their spending on 3D printing technology within the next year. The idea is they will be able to use the technology to speed up product development through prototyping or on the flip side of that, they will be able to advance product development through proof of concept. All in all the study illustrated in what ways 3D printing is growing within businesses, where business are prioritizing and how they view the future of technology in their own processes. Read the full summary of the report here.

What Could 2017 Hold?

2017 and beyond could really start to see some major developments in the ways we use 3D printing. For example 3D bioprinting systems for organ transplants is a prediction that could have some legs to stand on pretty soon. The idea is that it would begin to unfold within the next 5 to 10 years. However, printed organs wouldn’t be readily available until our children have reached our parents age.

We’ll see more stability with 3D printing in business, specifically with low-cost 3D printers. They’re being placed in a category alongside the wearables industry and the Internet Of Things. It’s an honorable group to be placed amongst. This is probably because of 3D printing’s ability for rapid prototyping. 3D printing of consumer products is still in the early stages, until we can lower cost of the machine and speed up production it may be some time before we see real movement here.  The current value of the 3D printing market amounts to $4.5 billion and by 2020 it’s expected to be a $17.2 billion dollar industry.

Global 3D industry market
Image via 3dprintingcenter.net

If engineers are going to grow this market they’re going to have to aim for speed. It doesn’t matter how well made an item is, if it takes 8 hours to make one object the ROI just isn’t going to be there. These faster machines mean that they will become a part of the actual manufacturing production as opposed to the machines that designers and engineers use to build and test new parts. Coming full circle 3D printing companies will start to see profit in their once teetering industry. VAIO recognizes the potential in 3D printing. We never know what the future will hold, least of all in technology, but the advancements are promising.