Feb 1, 2016 | By Kira

The first month of 2016 is now behind us, and the year is shaping up to be particularly interesting in terms of 3D printing trends. In the advanced materials sector specifically, emerging technologies firm Lux Research has predicted that the top three ‘undercover’ advanced materials trends of 2016 include improved 3D printing software and formats, Carbon nanotube products, and IoT devices embedded with sensing materials.

The first 'under-the-radar' advanced materials trend of 2016 is the scale production of carbon nanotube (CNT) products. “After years of hype and concomitant oversupply, the industry began a shakeout of undifferentiated players in 2013,” said Anthony Schiavo of Lux Research. Carbon nanotubes are cylindrical carbon molecules with excellent thermal conductivity and mechanical and electrical properties, making them extremely valuable in nanotechnogloy, semi-conductors, electronics, optics, and other fields of materials science.

Back in 2014, Michigan-based startup 3DXTech introduced a line of specialty 3DXNano ESD Carbon Nanotube 3D printing filaments designed for use in nearly any FDM/FFF desktop 3D printer with a heated build platform, and expanding the possibilities for functional 3D printed electronics and PCBs. 3D printed carbon nanotubes can also significantly strengthen 3D printed objects.

Moving into 2015, companies such as General Nano scaled up production of its CNT sheets for aerospace electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding to around 100,000m2/year, while achieving two orders of magnitude cost reduction, to between $10/m2 and $50/m2. “At this price point, its sheets are a compelling alternative to incumbent metal meshes dues to lighter weight and improved processing,” said Schiavo. As this trend continues to grow, Lux predicts 2016 will be the year carbon nanotube products and 3D printed carbon nanotubes finally make a significant splash in the advanced materials market.

The second undercover advanced materials trend of 2016 is that both 3D printing startups and majors will have to shift their focus beyond just making new 3D printers, towards creating novel 3D printing solutions, including improved 3D printing software, 3D printing file formats, or features such as the ability embedded sensors, in order to differentiate themselves from the competition. “2015 saw the emergence of a wave of start-ups aimed at democratizing the 3D printing hardware space,” said Schiavo, citing Cosine Additive and Autodesk as examples of companies offering advanced 3D printers with open source hardware platforms. “Open materials and hardware is the new baseline for innovators—going forward, new entrants and established players will need new angles for differentiation.”

MIT's Multifab 3D printer

For example, MIT has developed a potentially disruptive production technique with its CSAIL MultiFab 3D printer, which can 3D print functional objects out of at least ten different material options in a single 3D printing session. It can also embed complex electronic parts, circuits and even sensors directly into the object, creating finished, functional 3D printed devices straight off the print bed.

Microsoft’s .3MF format is also suggested as a project that will allow 3D printing companies to focus on 3D printing materials innovation in 2016, rather than stalling while trying to fix basic interoperability issues. As 3D printers advance in size, speed, and multi-functionality, the industry-standard .STL file format is becoming increasingly problematic, as it is only capable of handling enough data to print in a single material, or a homogenous shape. Yet the 3MF Consortium has created  a full-fidelity format that promises to work across a variety of 3D printers, devices, applications, services and platforms, ultimately simplifying and expanding how designers can 3D print.


The third advanced materials trend of 2016 predicted by Lux Research is that the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) market has and will continue to create new opportunities for sensing materials. “The coming flood of sensors in the workplace will greatly ease communication between sensing materials and connected devices, and thus the industrial Internet as a whole. Clients should expect these lower barriers created by the rise of IoT in 2016 to speed the development and eventual implementation of sensing materials as a class,” wrote Schiavo. “This will lead to an increasing number of start-ups offering sensing coatings and materials that emerge in 2016.”

Indeed, the IoT market has been driving industry growth, at times even overshadowing the 3D printing industry—Samsung, for example, shifted its focus towards IoT in late 2015. However, as far as technology trends go, 3D printing and the Internet of Things are closely connected, as we have seen several 3D printed IoT-enabled devices, such as Orbitrec, a 3D printed titanium bike with built-in sensors. The Germany-based Capricate platform also enables users to embed sensors during the 3D printing process.

Capricate enables users to embed sensors during 3D printing

Samsung's presentation on IoT and sensing material technology

Lux Research is an independent research firm specializing in ongoing intelligence and emerging technologies, and its predictions for the 2016 advanced materials market reveal that the future of advanced manufacturing and 3D printing lies in functional and sensing materials for the increasingly high-demand and interconnected technology market, as well as innovations in 3D printing software, file formats, applications, or other solutions, which will ultimately help new 3D printing startups as well as major players differentiate themselves within the increasingly competitive 3D printing industry. Currently, Lux is working on a State of the Market Report that will analyze what impact non-material technologies—including new design and manufacturing tools—will have on the advanced materials and advanced manufacturing industries.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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