The 3D printing industry is taking off, with an expected compound annual growth rate of more than 24 percent between 2015 and 2020, according to IDC—which also predicts that 3D printing will bring in more than $35 billion in worldwide revenue by 2020. The business opportunity is clear, but what’s more exciting is the evolution of 3D printing and the way it’s transforming businesses across sectors, not to mention the way people live their lives.
Let’s take a look at the top four industries being disrupted by 3D printing innovation, and what this means for the future.
According to The Financial Times, adoption of 3D printing is happening fastest in the medical industry, where it’s being used to print implants, prosthetics, organs, and more. The potential applications for 3D printing in medicine are diverse and mind-boggling—and they’re already on track to save lives. One way is by creating models that researchers can use to better prepare for surgery.
In 2015, a medical team from the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong created a 3D-printed custom implant to reconstruct a man’s pelvis, after he underwent surgery for a pelvic tumor. Not only did 3D printing enable the team to create an implant that was uniquely designed for the patient’s body, but they were also able to perform tests and trials to “ensure the implant integrity” and rehearse the procedure beforehand, increasing the chances of success. 3D printing also helped doctors in London achieve a successful outcome for a toddler named Mina Khan, who was born with a crippling heart defect. These physicians used a 3D printer to create a model of her heart before the procedure.
Advancing prosthetics is another opportunity. Modern prostheses can provide patients with motor function, but not a sense of touch. 3D printing is changing that. According to an article in Scientific American, 3D printing is allowing scientists to build “complex biomimetic hands with plastic bones and ligaments that mirror every point of articulation in a natural human hand.” The list goes on. The future of surgery is 3D printing.
2. The military
The evolution of 3D printing is also creating exciting possibilities for military use. Earlier this year, NASA and the US military announced that they used 3D-printed components to successfully test advanced prototype airplanes, spacecrafts, and ground vehicles. In addition, the USS Harry Truman was able to print 3D-printed parts at sea, which enabled them to maintain the ship without needing to return to port or have the parts flown in. The military has also looked into using 3D printing to develop an “Iron Man” type suit (otherwise known as a Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) that could protect soldiers.
3D printing could save lives with its potential to improve ordinance disposal. Allen Tan, who was an ordinance disposal technician with the US military during the Iraq War, started the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, which 3D prints replica munitions to make training for these technicians more effective.
As 3D printing first made its way into mainstream consciousness, there was a lot of excitement about it’s application in building construction. In 2016, this vision has become a reality. A 3D-printed mansion was completed in 45 days in China and its builders claimed it’s durable enough to withstand an 8.0 earthquake. Dubai is home to the first 3D-printed office and has ambitious plans to 3D print a quarter of the city’s buildings by 2030. Singapore is planning 3D-printed public housing.
As the evolution of 3D printing continues to move forward—along with best practices and safety standards—it will become an increasingly common mode of construction. Furthermore, it will make housing more accessible, which is not only great for young people and families who need affordable homes, but also for people struggling with poverty, homelessness, or the aftermath of natural disasters. The scale and speed of 3D-printed buildings will continue to grow.
Molecular gastronomy has taken the food world by storm throughout the past few decades as innovative chefs have experimented with new techniques and approaches to cooking. 3D printing is opening up a new frontier for this type of cuisine. A restaurant in London called Food Ink is offering a “multi-sensory food experience,” where a 3D printer produces dishes in front of diner’s eyes (diners who are sitting on 3D-printed chairs and using 3D-printed utensils).
Outside the realm of haute cuisine, 3D printing is also having an impact on humbler fare. Foodini lets people 3D print their dinners, whether they’re craving burgers, pizza, pasta, or chocolate. In addition to boosting creativity and convenience, the evolution of 3D printing is moving toward making food more nutritious, customizable, and sustainable, as reported by The Washington Post. In the future, 3D printing could make it easier for people with dietary restrictions to eat and make unappetizing sources of nutrients more appealing. For example, nursing homes in Germany are serving a 3D-printed food product called Biozoon Food Innovations to elderly people who struggle to chew or swallow, but don’t want to eat bland mush.
“We can see a time when you might be wearing technology that would be sensing what your body needs at any given time, whether you’re an athlete or whether you have a medical condition or whether you’re elderly,” Liz von Hasseln, creative director of the Sugar Lab at 3D System, told The Washington Post. “And that could theoretically link up to your printer at home and when you get home a specialized meal could be waiting for you that provides exactly what your body needs.”
These industries represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the evolution of 3D printing. Manufacturing, art, education, retail, and more will all be shaped by 3D printing in some way, and it’s the businesses that jump on board first that will see the greatest gains.