What is it?
3D Printing, or Additive Manufacturing is the process of creating three dimensional objects from a digital file. Whereas conventional, 2D printers use ink cartridges to print images and words onto paper, 3D printers use materials like plastic and metal to create 3D products. The most common techniques Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Stereolithography (SLA) use lasers to build the layers of the intended product. The final product is designed using CAD (Computer Aided Design) and software that turns the CAD image into a 3D model ready to be ‘sliced’. ‘Slicing’ is the name given to the process of preparing the model for printing.
How did the technology develop?
3D Printing as we know it today began to take off in the 1980s. In 1984, a number of patents were filed for the process of Stereolithography (SLA), which is the process of using lasers to create layers. All were abandoned except for that of Chuck Hull, the co-founder of 3D Systems Corporation. By 2010, 3D Printing became the widely used umbrella term for all aspects and processes within Additive Manufacturing. The technology was initially developed to enable rapid prototyping, which refers to the efficient creation of CAD models. In the last five years, 3D Printers have become far more accessible and affordable opening up new opportunities for retailers and manufacturers and makers to produce personalised products.
3D printing has been used to create a wide range of products including prosthetic limbs, car parts, fashion accessories, food and even guns. The healthcare industry is increasingly embracing 3D-printing technologies to produce truly bespoke prosthetics, models of bones, teeth and even organic body parts made with human tissue. In the construction sector 3D model are used for architectural purposes, allowing contractors and designers to view structures on a smaller, more manageable scale. A number of Asian companies have even created full-scale, 3D-printed houses. Retail and manufacturing could see the biggest disruption from 3D Printing. Advances in technology, the availability of 3D printing bureaus and growing number of marketplaces such as Shapeways and Amazon Launchpad are offering opportunities for homeworkers to become the artisans of the new millennium.
A printing process that involves making three-dimensional objects from digital models by applying many thin layers of quick-drying material on top of each other
Over $680 Million has been invested in 3D Printing technologies since 2010. With over $320 million invested in 2015 the sector is expected to see huge growth over the coming years. According to the 2015 Wohlers Report, the global revenue of the 3D Printing industry will exceed $12 billion USD by 2018. In 2020, the number is predicted to rise to $21 billion USD. This year, statista.com also valued the 2020 3D Printing industry at $21 billion USD.