Oct. 10, 2014 | By Alec

Many 3D printing enthusiasts will have noticed that 3D printing technology has been surging the past year or so. More and more start-up businesses are appearing everywhere, new innovations are being released every day and numerous industrial giants have been experimenting with 3D printing technology as well.

While these were mostly suspicions, research by international services giant PwC now verifies it as well. Their technological survey revealed that a massive two-thirds of the top 100 manufacturing companies are now using 3D printing or a similar type of rapid prototyping technology in some way or another.

Now two-thirds might sound even more impressive than many optimists in the 3D printing community would have claimed, but the majority of these two-thirds are simply experimenting with 3D printing's potential. They are thus still trying to determine how it can be used to optimise their production processes, rather than actually using it in that process.

Instead, a 'mere' 24.6% of companies surveyed are already using this technology in their prototyping phases, while an even more modest 9.6% of manufacturing companies are using it in both prototyping and production phases. As can be seen in the figure below, a third of all companies say they don't use 3D printing technology in any shape or form.

As 3-D printers become faster, easier to use, handle multiple materials, and print active components or systems, they will find use beyond rapid prototyping, PWC stated.

Interestingly, about the future of 3D printing technology, PWC predicted a bright, but bumpy road ahead. The global 3D printing market is already worth $2.5 billion, which could grow up to $16.2 billion by 2018, an impressive CAGR of 45.7%.

An interesting overview of 3D printing applications in the manufacturing industry.

While they thus suggest that 3D printing could definitely become cost-effective and suitable for producing high-volume, high-end commercial products, they go on to argue that some technological shortcomings still need to be overcome before that will become a reality. As they reported:

The 3-D printing industry faces challenges. Rapid prototyping will remain important but is not the game-changer that will expand the technology into high-volume use cases. The industry should pivot to printing more fully functional and finished products or components in volumes that greatly outnumber the volumes of prototypes produced.[…] In addition, 3-D printing should supplement or supplant products and components manufactured traditionally and create items that can be manufactured in no other way.

They recognise possible areas of improvement that would be necessary to tackle before 3D printing could become a truly mainstream manufacturing technology. Most significant of these were the price/quality ratio offered by printers, as well as improvements in printing speed, flexibility and materials.

The emerging market for printers is defining a new category that has high capability at lower cost.

Significantly, the report stated that a class of mid-level 3D printers is necessary, that offers most of the qualities and features of high-end industrial printers at an affordable price. Fortunately, several of these have already emerged. 'For example, printers from FSL3D and Formlabs deliver higher resolution and smaller size using stereolithography technology and are priced at a few thousand dollars. Printers from MarkForged offer the ability to print using carbon fiber composites in a desktop form factor for less than $5,000. CubeJet from 3D Systems is priced under $5,000, can print in multiple colors, and brings professional features to a lower price point.'

Continued development of affordable 3D printing technology would be one of the main factors that can propel 3D printing into the regions of mainstream manufacturing. 'It is fair to expect that printer improvements will accelerate in the next few years, although the degree and nature of these changes will vary considerably across printing technologies and vendors.'

However, a variety of other improvements could also encourage these developments. Significantly, printers need to become much faster and need to be able to function without relying on human intervention for cleaning extrusion heads and other tasks. These steps, however, are not considered a mere theoretically possibility. Andrew Boggier, lead engineer at FSL3D, stated that 'There are lots of ways to improve speed by using higher-quality components and by optimizing the designs and movement of the lasers.' For example, Form 1+ uses lasers that are four times more powerful to print up to 50 percent faster than the previous generation printer Form 1.

Finally, to make 3D printing technology an unavoidable tool in manufacturing, printers would have to become capable of printing complete subsystems and systems.

Firstly, this would require printers to be capable of working with more than one material at a time: 'Most printers work with only one type of material—plastic, metal, ceramic, wood, or a biological material. To create more useful products and expand the market, 3-D printers will need to process multiple material types within a single build cycle.'

However, this challenge would also entail incorporating the ability to embed components such as sensors, electronics, and batteries in the objects, so everything can be printed in one build. Fortunately, 'R&D efforts are under way in a number of areas, including materials, printing methods, and combining additive and traditional methods of manufacturing.'

This could also be realised in developing printable inks that form the basis of many of these electronics. As an example, the report highlighted Jennifer A. Lewis's (Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences) research on the basic building blocks of tiny lithium-ion batteries that can be printed as inks.

This very interesting PwC report is therefore predicting a very bright future for 3D printing technology. If all these hurdles can actually be taken, who would disagree? The numerous innovations and revolutionary applications that are being unveiled on a daily basis, seem to suggest that such a future is already rapidly approaching.

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to

3ders.org Feeds 3ders.org twitter 3ders.org facebook   

About 3Ders.org

3Ders.org provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive