3D Printing Is Going to Change Business, Society and the World

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2013-09-27 Print this article Print
3D printer

Designer Francis Bitonti, as part of a workshop he teaches at the Pratt Institute, worked with his class to create the "Verlan Dress." It was made from MakerBot Flexible Filament, a new nontoxic, biodegradable and flexible material, and inspired by the lines of human musculature.

Bitonti delighted in having 3D printers in the design studio, where his students had "the ability to have immediate feedback on their designs by printing them during the design process," he said in a Sept. 6 statement.

In keeping with the new manufacturing, creative and business paradigms that 3D printing ushers in, the design—far from inaccessible couture—is now posted on Thingiverse, where anyone can download the file and instructions and print a dress of her own.

The Future of 3D Printing

Lux Research has forecast that the 3D printing market could reach $8.4 billion in sales by 2025, up from $777 million in 2012.

By 2016, research firm Gartner expects enterprise-class 3D printers will be available for less than $2,000 and other types for less than $1,000.

"Do not let the hype disguise the very real cost savings from improved designs, streamlined prototyping and short-run manufacturing," Gartner analyst Pete Basiliere wrote in a March report. He further advised enterprises to "start experimenting with 3D printing technology to improve traditional product design and prototyping, with the potential to create new product lines and markets."

With the opportunity to experiment, manufacturers might find "viable alternatives" to how they're currently making products, whether by using different materials or a different method, Basiliere told eWEEK.

Aerospace companies, ship builders and other vertical markets want to bring in 3D technology for two reasons, he explained. "The first is to change the way they manufacture items."

He gave the example of Sandia Labs, where researchers and engineers were able to advance a task more quickly by designing during the day, letting a prototype print at night, and getting right back to work in the morning, instead of sending out the prototype and letting work stall while they waited.

The other reason is to introduce engineering staff to additive manufacturing.

"Most items are made with a subtractive process. You have a piece of metal or wood, and you take from it what you need," explained Basiliere. "3D printing is truly additive, where you're building from the bottom up. It enables items to be built that are literally not possible with traditional manufacturing technologies."

With desktop 3D printers to experiment with, "staff who are experienced in subtractive manufacturing can experiment with additive, and see what windows it opens up for the company," he said.

While 3D printing is already well-established in industries, from automotive manufacturing to pharmaceuticals, opportunities still exist, Basiliere wrote in his report.

"Businesses can use 3D printing to design personalized products, components, working prototypes and architectural models to promote their brand and products in new and interactive ways," he wrote. "Indeed, there are opportunities to create entirely new product lines in which the finished 3D-printed product is what the consumer purchases."


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