3D printing is an additive manufacturing process. In recent years, 3D printer prices have dropped substantially, and a wide variety of printable materials is available. You don’t need to be a CAD expert to create a 3D-printable file. Media attention has helped further accelerate the industry’s momentum.
It has captured the imagination of many, with the possibility of starting a manufacturing revolution. New applications and materials are announced on a (very) frequent basis. 3D printing is being used in many more applications than most people realize. But the most exciting applications for 3D printing are the ones that haven’t even been conceived of yet. It’s exciting to realize we are on the cusp of a manufacturing revolution that affects so many different industries already.
Industries using 3D printing for production-level manufacturing include the aerospace industry, where the ability to redesign parts to be just as strong but much lighter than traditional parts translates to fuel savings. This high strength-to-weight ratio also benefits most other forms of transportation.
Another promising application for 3D printing is in the medical arena, where 3D printing enables mass customization to make parts designed for an individual’s measurements. Designs are based on CT scan data that is readily available. Surgeons can use virtual tools to prepare for surgery, which includes a personalized set of guides, instruments and implants.
2013-2014 was a period of high growth due to media attention, resulting in over-capacity, and consolidation. 2015 was a year of increasing utilization of existing printers, while the end customers were adjusting to the new printers and capacity. Near-term, the focus for desktop printer sales is in education and engineering. In fact, 3D Systems exited the consumer 3D printing space, discontinuing its $999 Cube 3D printer and its Cubify business.
This report includes applications for 3D printing, including a section on 3D printing in electronics. It also reviews different types of printers, materials, and processes for 3D printing, and includes profiles for some of the major players. A forecast for the 3D printing market includes printers, services and materials.