How it's being used and What's Next
Whilst 3D printing has been touted as tomorrow’s technology for around a decade, and been around since the 80’s, it now encompasses seven key techniques and there are signs that it is seeping into the mainstream to the extent that major change is on the horizon.
Chinese company Wilsun has demonstrated the construction of a two-story villa in less than three hours, using the technique[i]. This novelty value is to crystalize into solid business opportunities, with research suggesting there could be a number of viable 3D-contruction businesses within five to ten years[ii]. Indeed, the UAE is aiming for 25 percent of its buildings to be 3D printed by 2030[iii], no doubt in since 3D printed construction can save 80 percent in overall building costs[iv]. Whilst the impact on anyone using real estate could in itself be profound, the 3D printing revolution will impact a variety of product and even service oriented industries in ways that may surprise the casual observer.
Capabilities are rapidly evolving thanks to improvements in both digital technologies and the machines themselves[v], which are already moving beyond plastic to become material agnostic. In addition, a new printer has been developed that is ten times faster than commercial counterparts[vi]. Carbon Inc.’s M1 3D printers can now produce complex objects in minutes, compared with the hours needed by traditional, layer-by-layer 3D printers[vii].
As such, we are, after a long period of over hype and under performance, on the cusp ‘…of creating a new generation of devices that could vastly expand the practical applications for 3D and 4D printing[viii].’ One breakthrough has allowed scientists to edit 3D printed object after completion[ix]. Other current research could allow future 3D printers to operate at the molecular level, potentially transforming the nature of personalised medicines, energy generation.