Manufacturing as we know it will never be the same again, and 3D printing is the phenomenon responsible.

It is estimated that the global 3D printing market will be worth $17.7 billion by 2020, $30 billion by 2022 and $55.8 billion by 2027 – the significant growth illustrating just how important it is now becoming.

 

Although it originally appeared as though it would be a niche market, 3D printing started to hit the headlines a few years ago, fascinating people all around the world with a visually stunning creation process. Now, it is used everywhere – aerospace, fashion, food, automotive, healthcare… the list goes on.

What’s more, 3D printing is expected to drastically change several more industries.

Famous NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, the owner of Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing (KAM), commented on using 3D printing in his business, saying, ‘The capabilities of new technologies are limited only by our imaginations and willingness to act. Until now, much of this new advanced manufacturing technology was considered too complex and too expensive for production level applications. By combining additive manufacturing with subtractive capabilities, the goal of KAM is to lead the way for the next industrial revolution by making these technologies more accessible.’

But let’s go back to the basics for a minute.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a manufacturing process whereby a 3D printer creates three-dimensional objects by depositing materials, layer by layer, in accordance with the object’s 3D digital model.

3D printing techniques have in fact been around for decades. However, it was in 2009 that a consumer-friendly version of 3D printing called FDM (fused deposition modelling) became publicly available, after its patent expired. This was the tipping point for 3D printing becoming more mainstream, as it led to a boom in affordable 3D printing devices.

Nowadays, many people even have 3D printers in their homes. We live in times when it has become cheaper, faster and more customisable to 3D print something at home than to find and buy it from a store.

 

Companies around the world have also started to embrace this technology.

Giants like General Electric (GE), Boeing, Bombardier, Launcher, Stryker, Adidas and General Motors (GM) have perfectly illustrated how 3D printing can be used to print highly specific, expertly designed parts of airplanes, cars and spaceships, as well as joint replacements, dentures, bicycles and much more.

 

Another three powerhouse companies – Siemens, Johnson&Johnson’s and BMW – have announced the construction of their own additive manufacturing facilities. Such a move is expected to position these companies and their partners at the very front of the manufacturing revolution.

Another company that wants to strengthen its position on the 3D printing market is Henkel, a large multinational with successful brands in both the consumer and industrial sectors; the company has announced a series of partnerships for the joint development of new industrial 3D printing solutions.

And believe it or not, these companies are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more players embracing this technology that you should be familiar with, as they are in fact the biggest companies in the 3D printing industry by market cap.

Hewlett-Packard (HP), with a market cap of $40.79 billion, is making inroads with Multi Jet Fusion – a new 3D printing technology offering more possibilities for lower-cost, complex parts, and in 2017 the company unveiled the world’s first state-of-the-art laboratory to help companies develop, test and deliver the next generation of materials and applications for 3D printing.

Then there’s Proto Labs, a company that won a Manufacturing Leadership Award by Frost & Sullivan, and that has a market cap of $4.36 billion. It was founded in 1999 and has eight manufacturing locations across three continents. Other leaders topping the bill with the adoption of this technology are 3D Systems, Stratasys, Materialise, SLM Solutions Group and Nano Dimension.

In the last four years, over $13 billion has been spent on 3D printing. Looking ahead, however, GE estimates that $280 billion will be spent on this technology in the next ten years.

 

Jason Oliver, President and CEO of GE subsidiary GE Additive, once said, ‘3D printing is about redesigning processes and rethinking production lines. It’s about remaking the manufacturing process for a modern society. This is the digitalisation of manufacturing.’

 

And in fact, 3D printing has the power to change more aspects of our lives than we could have ever expected.

 

Many companies around the world are starting to invest in continuous photopolymer systems. Gartner, the world’s leading research and advisory organisation, predicts that the growth in photopolymer 3D printers will be in the region of 75% over the next few years.

 

Then there’s healthcare, an industry that 3D printing is set to revolutionise in several different ways, with the biggest impact expected to be in bioprinting. Such printing of 3D objects using biological material could lead to the creation of replacement organs – manufactured from a patient’s cells, tissues and more, to potentially overcome organ rejections risks.

3D printing even gets us one step closer to a pharmaceutical revolution, as 3D printed pills that are tailored to treat the unique ailments of each patient are about to become a reality as well.

And there’s one other exciting prediction for 2019.

As manufacturing industries, healthcare providers and supply chains accelerate their practical uses of 3D printing, another technology is making an appearance: 4D printing, which makes it possible to change the shape of 3D printed object after it’s been published.

Companies such as Airbus, Autodesk, HP and Stratasys are already working on 4D printing.

The current market share of 4D printing is $28 million, and is expected to reach $537 million by the end of 2025. Gartner also predicts that by 2023, start-up companies working to commercialise 4D printing will attract $300 million in venture capital.

4D printing has already contributed immensely to the field of medicine. To minimise the procedures involved in carrying out surgery, doctors use 4D printing to put self-transforming components into the patient’s body. It is expected that 4D printing will bring further previously unimaginable capabilities in industries such as construction, aerospace, health and automotive.

There is no denying that 3D printing and its effect on human lives is vast.

At this very moment, 3D printers around the globe are creating new shapes, innovating products and giving eco-friendly alternatives to other production methods.

It has brought the future closer – and it’s definitely here to stay.