Calling most any trend in the manufacturing or machining industries “hot,” might be a bit of a stretch, at least traditionally. However, the explosion of 3-D printing could be drastically changing the manufacturing landscape and revolutionizing both the type of products that consumers have available to them and how they are produced. As a result, by 2018, according to research from Canalys, if 3-D printing continues to grow at the same rate, the industry value could reach more than $16 billion.
“Expect to see new major entrants making a significant impact in the industry in the coming years, including giants such as HP,” said Canalys senior analyst Tim Shepherd. “As barriers fall, new use cases emerge, the technology improves and new entrants join, this is a market that will look very different in five years’ time.”
Some of the new entrants will undoubtedly be medical, and medical 3-D printing has already made a splash. In fact, doctors at the University Medical Center Utrecth, in the Netherlands, were able to successfully replace a woman’s cranium with a 3-D printed plastic one and were able to save her life. The 23-hour surgery might represent a major breakthrough in the advanced manufacturing technology.
The patient suffered from a thickening of the skull that had caused headaches, decreased motor skills, and fading vision. Over time, it would have caused essential brain functions to stop, and she would have died.
“We used to create an implant by hand in the operating theater using a kind of cement, but those implants did not have a very good fit,” said Dr. Bon Verweij. “Now we can use 3-D printing to ensure that these components are an exact fit. This has major advantages, not only cosmetically but also because patients often have better brain function compared with the old method.”
Perhaps the greatest benefits of 3-D printing will come in the medical field, but they certainly won’t be the only ones. Manufacturers and machinists could certainly improve if they are able to take advantage of it.
“3-D printing is a great resource for small-scale prototyping,” says Emmy Horton, Marketing Coordinator at Parlec. “I would expect the use of this technology to continue to grow across the manufacturing industry in the future.
It is hard to know whether or not Canalys’ predictions will come true, and technologies like this are never a sure thing. However, with the multiple uses of 3-D printing, it is easy to surmise that not only will those predictions come true, but they may actually be conservative.