Put down your tools and throw away those molds — 3D printing means customized complex geometries can be produced en masse at a fraction of the cost.
From watch cases and spikes on running shoes, to rocket engine components and implants for the human body, 3D printers can be used to make virtually anything out of virtually anything. Materials are printed layer-by-layer into such intricate devices that designers and manufacturers are being forced to rethink their entire approach to construction.
3D printing is not just for tchotchkes anymore. Technological advancement paired with decreasing costs to build and/or purchase 3D printers create the perfect storm for the next industrial revolution. 3D printing technology will virtually transform the way companies conduct business, affecting manufacturing processes, disrupting the supply chain, and transforming primary and logistics businesses. Just as importantly, 3D printing, once it takes hold, will have substantial implications on intellectual property (“IP”): patents, copyrights and trademarks.
Analysts at Gartner predict that “[b]y 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally.” Gartner Reveals Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users for 2014 and Beyond, October 8, 2013. It is easy to imagine why. For example, today there are a number of “online maker sites.” On Shapeways, users can upload digital design files of products, which Shapeways uses to 3D print products and ship back to the users. Shapeways also hosts online “shops” for users to sell their 3D printed products. Through Thingiverse, users can download other users’ design files to print products or “remix” products by modifying a file or merging multiple files.
In 2013 researchers at Princeton University created a “bionic ear” – capable of detecting frequencies a million times higher than a human’s hearing range, and manufactured by blending biological tissues with electronics via a 3D printer. First invented in 1984, 3D printing is now capable of producing human organs and limbs, NASA rocket engine parts, car chassis, entire five-storey concrete houses and more. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
The design world has cottoned on to the possibilities of 3D printing too, using it to create everything from crockery to lampshades, while watchmakers have used the precision it affords to create intricate mechanisms and entire watch cases. But while there is a clutch of jewellers championing this new technology, others are disparaging about its use.
A researcher at the service’s Weapons and Materials Directorate lays out a vision for additive printers on the battlefield.
If you go by the Hype Cycle — Gartner’s annual tech-buzz assessment — then consumer 3D printing is about to tumble from the “peak of inflated expectations” into the “trough of disillusionment,” part of the coming five- to 10-year slog to the practical applications that await atop the “plateau of productivity.” But Larry “L.J.” Holmes, the principal investigator for materials and technology development in additive manufacturing at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, (ARL) isn’t waiting around for that.
In a presentation last month at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance summit, Holmes sketched out a variety of potential uses for 3D printing for the military, ranging from intelligence to communications to terraforming the battlefield. Here are a few highlights.
Euromold 2015 was an all-new conference and trade show in many ways, even though it is more than 20 years old. Euromold moved from Frankfurt to Düsseldorf and from November to September — but the biggest change was the increased emphasis on 3D printing.
Where once 3D printing was an interesting sideshow for a larger conference on molding and toolmaking, it is now the main event, with more than a third of all Euromold 2015 vendors active in additive manufacturing or other aspects of 3D printing. (The terms “additive manufacturing” and “3D printing” were used interchangeably during the conference.) The changes in date and location may have cost them a few trade show vendors (EOS and Stratasys were only represented by resellers), but the conference side of the event grew from one day hosted by Wohlers Associates to three days shared by Wohlers and the Society for Manufacturing Engineers (SME).