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.
If you have been to the movies lately, you’ve likely seen 3D printing in action. Movies from “Iron Man” to “ParaNorman” used 3D printing, while Disney’s upcoming “Big Hero 6” features a main character designing and printing a robot armor suit. What 3D printing has brought to Hollywood is the ability to quickly make designs for directors to approve, easily make iterative changes to the designs, add amazing detail, and create parts much more efficiently than doing it by hand.
You may have seen pictures of the futuristic-looking 3D-printed shoes designed by the fashion industry. In a more practical approach, Nike has brought 3D printing to its shoe design and production processes, with football cleats made with SLS technology. The company was featured at the 2014 World Cup with its 3D-printed Rebento duffle bag and 3D-printed shin guards.
3D printing will literally be an out-of-this-world technology in August with the launch of the SpaceX Dragon CRS-4. NASA has approved a 3D printer made by a company called Made in Space. This printer will be taken to the International Space Station and tested there, with the parts printed in space compared to controls printed here on earth. The eventual goal is to permanently install a 3D printer at the ISS. Being able to print out spare parts in space will reduce the amount of cargo that needs to be taken to the ISS and stored there.
One industry with almost limitless potential for 3D printing is the medical industry. One of 3D printing’s best advantages is the ability to make custom parts, which is crucial when treating patients of all shapes and sizes. Applications include prosthetics, casts and braces, facial reconstruction, and skull and bone implants. Researchers are working to print artificial blood vessels and organs to use as transplants in the future. Custom wearables like hearing aids and orthodontics are already being 3D-printed, but the potential for future wearable technology is clear.
These are just a few of the applications in which 3D printing is already having a positive impact on our lives. What is truly exciting is knowing that there are so many more applications ready to be discovered.
Are you coming to SEMICON West this July? Make sure to attend our 3D Printing TechXPOT on Thursday, July 10. I will be speaking there along with a great lineup of people across the 3D printing industry. If you can’t make it to the event, contact us about our new study titled, 3D Printing: the Next Industrial Revolution.
Adrienne Downey is director of technology research for Semico Research Corp.