Additive Manufacturing, a process more commonly known as 3D Printing, is a method of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. Having been invented in the 1980s, the technology has been primarily used for rapid prototyping. However, in the recent times, the technology has evolved dramatically and now holds the key to become the future of “next-generation manufacturing technology”.
The general notion attached to the technology is that it has the potential to allow every consumer create virtually anything at home. This will not only undermine the requirement of shopping to every day consumers but could also eliminate the requirement to build items in factories in the first place and then have it delivered to other locations.
The whole process of 3D printing can be explained in three steps:
- Design a 3D File: By making use of CAD (Computer Aided Design) Software, a 3D scanner, or by simply downloading file from an online marketplace.
- Start the Printing Process: Before starting the actual printing process, it is required to choose the material which will best replicate the properties of the desired object. The variety of materials that can be used for 3D printing includes plastics, ceramics, resins, metals, sand, textiles, biomaterials, glass, and food, among others.
- Finishing: To make the printed object ready for its intended purpose, it is required to put some finishing touches to the product by dusting, lacquering, or painting it.
Even though 3D printers employ a wide variety of techniques and materials, they all share a common trait — ability to transform digital files into 3-dimensional objects. A variety of 3D printing technologies are presented below:
In 2010, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), Additive Manufacturing Technology, developed a set of standards to classify the additive manufacturing processes into 7 categories. These 7 processes as per ASTM as well as some of the applications of 3D printing are mentioned below:
The technology has recently seen acceptance in the market, with the industry sized at US$5.43 billion in 2015 already. The market for 3D Printing is further expected to grow at 31% annually in the period from 2015 to 2020, to take it over the US$21 billion mark by 2020. The staggering estimated growth for the industry stems primarily from the fact this technology will allow end-users to do their own manufacturing and thus will help in efficient use of energy resources, waste reduction, and better customization of the products.
Some experts argue that 3D printers can change the nature of commerce by eliminating the need for engaging in trade to buy products and could well be the face of future manufacturing world. At present, 3D printing is still at a nascent stage, with mainly hobbyists, artists, and designers showing higher adoption to the technology. However, as the 3D printing gets faster, more accurate, and easier to use, this technology has the potential to start a new industrial revolution.
(Analysis of successful business models by DART Analysts)