The Cheat Sheet

3D printing is building a new world

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on January 09, 2019

Where? I don’t see anyone using it among us.

Well, you’re not scanning in the right dimensions. Just this morning, I was chatting with a friend from a remote village in Kerala who’s been using a super cool 3D printer to make cycle parts and several another interesting things; he’s even managed to sell some of his products to friends and neighbours. That prompted me to sit back and take note of what’s happening now in this technology, which was once touted to be one of the most influential force in industrialisation’s next journey.

So, what have you found out?

Fact is, 3D printing is coming of age, thanks to a series of companies, mainly from China, and entrepreneurs who’re changing the game for good, making the technology, which was initially popular in the industrial sector and among small manufacturers, more approachable to the common man. Year 2018 was when 3D printing proved its mettle and helped shed some of the myths around it, as Richard A D’Aveni author of The Pan-Industrial Revolution: How New Manufacturing Titans Will Transform the World recently observed in The Washington Post.

What were those myths?

Apparently, people thought 3D printing could be a slow process and may never gain the speeds of professional, industry-scale product-making. But new 3D printers such as Desktop Metal’s Single Pass Jetting or HP’s Multi Jet Fusion, notes D’Áveni, make products in minutes. Also, the other myth was 3D printers are able to produce only relatively small products. But that’s also changed. In all probability you have seen photos on social media of 3D printed houses from China and elsewhere. Again, in 2015 itself, a company in Amsterdam was able to 3D print a steel bridge across a famous canal.

Wow, that’s some real 3D!

There’s more. That 3D printing machines could produce only cheap products has also been proven wrong recently with latest techniques such as Digital Light Synthesis being able to provide high-quality finish to products. Also, now 3-D printing is able to create really complex structures that routine manufacturing methods would find difficult to handle. Experts are now saying that in the foreseeable future 3D printing can produce organs (yes, you heard me!). Already, cosmetic companies are trying 3D printing for making artificial skin, which they could use for testing new products.

That’s a new world, I’d say.

Indeed. Further, 3D printing is now helping economies, especially the not-so-advanced ones, to prosper in manufacturing. Aleksandra Gadzala, a senior fellow at think tank Africa Center, recently brought out a brief titled 3D Printing: Shaping Africa’s Future where she says 3D printing could help reshape “how and where things are made” in Africa and economies that rely on “low-wage, labour-intensive manufacturing”.

No wonder it’s popular in China.

Yes, China’s 3D printing industry is growing at a fast clip. The market for 3D printed houses and house components are booming in China, while the technology is influencing the way things are made in sectors such as medical devices, vehicle components, aviation, toys, home decor and art, according reports on China Daily. Recently, in Beijing, a patient underwent a brain surgery where the doctors at the Peking University Third Hospital used a 3D-printed membrane called ReDura, developed by bio-printing company Medprin Regenerative Medical Technologies in Guangzhou.

That’s super promising!

Analysts say the industrial 3D printing market will hit $7-10 billion by 2024, at a compounded annual growth of over 30 per cent from now. The market in emerging economies alone could reach $4.5 billion by 2020, forecasts a recent study. Which shows the sector is scaling new heights. That said, regulators feel that there is a need to look at the proliferation of 3D printing grey markets where consumers can produce guns at home.

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Published on January 09, 2019

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