Believe it or not, 3D printing was actually invented in the early 80s, although it didn’t start to pick up steam until the early 90s. In the beginning, 3D printing was used solely for creating prototypes of new inventions before they were manufactured. But, at the turn of the century as home computing power exploded 3D printing technology became more accessible, it became a hobby with home 3D printing enthusiasts around the world bringing their imagination to life.
Despite the consumer boom in 3D printing at the that began over a decade ago, industrial 3D printing has still been reserved to prototypes and little more. However, over the past few years that has started to change. As we develop stronger materials and new printing methods, 3D printing is transforming from a tool for planning to an actual manufacturing platform. We’re now printing computer parts, vehicle parts, and even food and organs.
For more on that, let’s check out 5 3D printing trends to watch in 2017.
One of the biggest issues that has plagued 3D printing from a hobbyist perspective is multi-color printing. The way 3D printers work, you’re only able to print with one color of material at a time. Multi-color objects are possible, but, the process decreases the maximum object size you can make and often leaves drips of the wrong color in different areas that need to be cleaned up by the maker after printing.
Those problems have recently been solved by a new tool called the Mosaic Palette. It’s a 3D printer add-on that splices multiple colors of material together to allow for seamless multi-color printing. As convenient as the Palette is though, people always want the most productivity out of the smallest space. You can expect printer manufacturers to begin working on incorporating a Palette-like system directly into their printers as soon as possible.
Alongside printing in multiple colors, printing a single object using multiple materials has been a challenging endeavor for makers. Currently, printing a single object using multiple materials either involves using separate nozzles, which can lead to drip issues, or pausing in the middle of printing to reset the machine with the new material. Neither method is a perfect solution to the issue and both add valuable time onto a build.
The Palette, mentioned above, allows for printing with multiple materials, but, it’s not a perfect solution either. One of the major areas printer manufacturers will be focusing on this year is developing machines that can handle multiple materials.
Enhanced metal printing
Speaking of those different materials. Traditionally, 3D printing has been done with different types of plastic. It’s convenient, though not particularly durable. As the auto industry looks to use 3D printing increasingly for actual manufacturing, durability is a key issue. They will be one of the leading contributors in the push to create stronger metal-based printing materials that print faster.
Bioprinting is the term given to using additive manufacturing to create a prosthetic or artificial organ, and 2016 was a big year for the field. Doctors printed replicas of everything from human bones and cartilage to arteries and even an ear. As the science of bioprinting progresses, it could come to replace organ donations and prosthetics of all kinds. It’s possible that we could be using some bioprinted prosthetics as soon as next year.
Food printers like the Foodini have really been gaining popularity over the past couple years. There’s even a completely 3D printed restaurant in the UK serving people daily. Unfortunately, when it comes to 3D printed food, we’re really limited to the dessert menu at the moment.
All 3D printed foods must be completely dehydrated at the moment to prevent spoiling and potential food poisoning. However, manufacturers like Foodini are hard at work on solving that problem in the hopes of one day being able to print entire meals. Although it will never be able to print a good steak, it opens the doors to some pretty spectacular looking dishes.
When it comes to the future of 3D printing, it’s all about more – more colors, more materials, more applications, and 2017 is set to give 3D printing enthusiasts ‘more’ in spades.