3D printing has been around and familiar to the public for a few years now, but it’s fair to say it still hasn’t emerged quite to the extent that it ultimately will. Right now, conversations about 3D printing tend to fall on either end of a wide spectrum: People are either exploring the most basic, small-scale versions of the technology available to consumers, or they’re speculating about large-scale applications with wild implications, such as printing homes or, even the idea of printing food that’s been covered here before.
In between those extremes though, there are a lot of interesting and exciting things happening in the 3D printing space. And given that it’s likely people will be broadening their understanding of the tech’s potential over the course of the current year, we decided to put forth a few things worth knowing about the state of 3D printing in 2020.
1. The Medical Field Is Already Dominant
Somehow or other most popular discussions about 3D printing seem to leave out the field of medicine, which could ultimately end up being the single busiest area for 3D printing innovation and application. Oddly, this has happened with some other recent tech innovations, like the IoT and virtual reality, as well. Be that as it may, you should likely expect to hear more about 3D printing in the medical space throughout the year ahead. Way back in 2018, Verdict Medical Devices listed four major applications revolutionizing the industry, specifically highlighting printed organs, surgical preparation aides, surgical instruments, and custom prosthetics. These kinds of products are already in use in the medical field, and depending on your own medical needs or those of friends and family members, you may even come into contact with some of them in your own life.
2. 3D Printing Production Can Be Custom Ordered
Speaking again to the idea of the wide spectrum of 3D printing applications and potential, it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that it can either be done on a personal or massive industry level. However, we’ve now reached a point at which there are possibilities in the middle too, which has significant implications for any number of individual companies looking to create products affordably and efficiently. Putting it more simply, people running businesses that require physical parts and products can now order 3D-printed materials from external sources.
Fictiv explains that 3D printing orders can produce custom parts manufactured on demand, sometimes turning a prototype into the beginnings of a product line with a turnaround as quick as a single day. It can still be a fairly involved process, in that different materials can be used, early production may have to be checked before a project continues, and so on. But by and large the potential is significant. This sort of service simply wasn’t available to business owners even a year or two ago, and it’s likely that many more will be taking advantage of it over the course of the year ahead.
3. There’s An Artistic Component
Art can fly under the radar for those who don’t take a specific interest in it, but we’ve seen a few new technologies making a significant impact in this space in recent years. And one of them will soon prove to have implications when combined with 3D printing as well. Robb Report pointed out that notable artists are embracing the medium of virtual reality, using it to create what is effectively a whole new type of visual art. Right now, much of that art consists of the design of 3D spaces that can be entered and explored like digital galleries. However, many have suggested that the combination of VR and more sophisticated 3D printing machines is going to result in a busy new sculpting medium as well. So if art interests you, or you just want to see what else is to come of 3D printing, keep an eye out for sculptures that are painted into 3D space via virtual reality and then printed out exactly in real, physical material.
4. Material Possibilities Are Still Being Worked Out
For a lot of casual observers the specific materials that can be used in 3D printing don’t make a great deal of difference. However, the fact that possibilities are still emerging, and 3D printers are still adapting to more materials, can only serve to expand the technology’s capabilities. Of late, we’ve seen more about various metals being used in 3D printers, alongside the carbon fiber and various ceramics that get more attention. Building on this, it’s fair to expect that one of the bigger (or at least more important) stories in this space over the course of the year will be continued innovation relating to material and perhaps even the creation of new hybrid materials for specific needs that arise.