3D printing is on the verge of becoming a mainstream technology but how will it change your business?
We all know technology has the potential to change our lives in so many different ways. But sometimes, there’s a particular area of tech and innovation that goes above and beyond to revolutionise the world; 3D printing is one of them.
While 3D printing is still a niche area, it’s growing rapidly. According to the 2015 Wohlers Report, the industry will grow by 31 percent a year and generate $21 billion (£15.6bn) by 2020.
And a number of companies are developing 3D printers and other products for both consumer and enterprise uses.
The innovation is always improving, but Gartner predicts that 496,475 printers will have been shipped by the end of the year. This statistic will reach an estimated 5.6 million by 2019, demonstrating massive potential.
What’s interesting is how people and companies are using the tech. Although 3D printing is a relatively new concept, it’s already making major strides in sectors like health, manufacturing and education.
Big for manufacturing and retail
Manufacturing is just one of the sectors where 3D printing is being used to its greatest potential.
Antony Bourne, global manufacturing industry director at enterprise company IFS, says he’s seen companies use 3D printers to spearhead research and prototyping operations in his industry.
“Beyond the traditional consumer hype of 3D printing, it is already playing an important role in today’s manufacturing industry. Its use in research and prototyping and for creating unique or obsolete parts is proving indispensable,” he tells us.
“I have found that many manufacturers and industrial firms are primarily using this technology in R&D and for creating prototypes. Being able to render items in plastic as well as metal, this technology offers immediate opportunities for make-to-order manufacturing and spares and repairs – rather than stockpiling, businesses are able to print items as needed. In industries such as oil and gas where space is limited, this is a very significant benefit.”
Bourne also believes that this innovation can help companies cut costs, especially around warehousing.
“I expect that 3D printing will lessen the need for costly warehouse space, and the future implications for the supply chain are enormous in terms of reducing the carbon footprint, transportation costs, long lead times and rigidity when attempting to meet changing customer demands,” he explains.
Nick Lazaridis, president of EMEA at HP Inc, says 3D printing can help manufacturers and retailers create products based on the needs of their customers: “It will make merchandise tailored to individual customer needs, greatly improving overall customer experience. 3D printing will even help Internet of Things roll-out, as sensors can be embedded into the fabric of a product rather than added afterwards.”
3D printers in the classroom
Schools, colleges and other educational institutions are also reaping the rewards of 3D printers.
Chris Elsworthy, CEO of CEL and creator of the Robox 3D printer, says 3D printing has been revolutionising a plethora of industries over the years but it’s now making a big impact in the classroom.
“For years, 3D printing technology has been revolutionising many different industries, from how we make our cars, to how we get our teeth and bones fixed. But recently, the technology has made significant strides and is now impacting an area that is even closer to home – education,” he says.
“Whereas previously the high cost of 3D printers had prevented the technology from making its way into schools, now 3D printers are more affordable and have been designed to be used anywhere and by anyone, from students as young as Key Stage 2.”
As well as being presenting affordable tech for learning, the printers also encourage children to become more creative and engage with their education.
“3D printers help students bring their concepts to life, making them more creative so that they grow up as makers, keen to innovate and think of ways to turn their ideas into reality,” notes Elsworthy.
“What’s really exciting is that 3D printing technology is now extending beyond just the D&T lab – it’s being used in other subject areas to help bring concepts to life. 3D printing is bringing together design and problem solving across all areas, which is helping to revolutionise the way students learn across the board.”