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Blog: 3D Printing: Where Is It Going?

February 20, 2015

2nd, 3rd, or 4th Industrial Revolution? However it has been heralded, 3D Printing is certainly making a huge buzz. From rocket engines that are winning the space race, to the face transplant that changed a man’s life, to customized earphones that fit right your ears – from industrial to consumer sector – 3D Printing has gone beyond our imagination.

While many of the consumers started to get familiar with the concept of 3D Printing (or additive manufacturing) in just recent years, 3D printing technologies emerged over 30 years back in the early 1980’s, when they were called Rapid Prototyping (RP) technologies[1]. Today, they are still being heavily used for prototyping applications, but have dramatically grown into many others areas. Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s, R&D was being conducted to further the technologies into specific tooling, casting and direct manufacturing applications, hence the emergence of new terminologies of Rapid Tooling (RT), Rapid Casting and Rapid Manufacturing (RM)[2]. Industrial applications of 3D Printing have since flourished and permeated into different sectors, aerospace, automotive, medical, healthcare, to name just a few. On the other side – at the lower end of the market at the moment, applications in the consumer sector are emerging with more visibility: 3D-printed toys, shoes, guitars, flutes, camera lens, hanging lights… What a wonderful world.3D Printing_Blog

With the power of 3D Printing, a lot of “what-if” ideas have been transformed into reality. So where is it going? And what does it mean to us in our daily life?

We noticed a few trends that it is going towards. As with the development of all technologies, we believe the 3D Printing technology is maturing and is maturing at a fast pace. Improvement in accuracy and speed, as well as the extension to support more material types, is evidently coming. Applications of organ printing with high precision and space printing with zero-gravity 3D printers that are currently under development phase are foreseen to be the next big things to come out in the market.

As the technology matures and becomes more prevalent, the price drops and will become much more affordable. At its early stage, a 3D printer would cost over $20,000. In 2007, the price mark dropped below $10,000 for the first time. Now we are seeing many 3D printers are available well below $5,000, with some even under $1,000.

If we say the war of 3D Printing in the industrial sector is near its peak, the war in the consumer sector is getting warmed up now. In the next few years, we will see the technology be applied to many more consumer products. With the pricing dropping and the printers get physically smaller, it’s highly likely that before long we will see mini 3D printers creep into households just like a regular consumer product…how about printing an additional set of dinnerware when an unexpected guest shows up?

[1][2]Data source from 3D Printing Industry (http://3dprintingindustry.com).

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