Let 2016 be known as the year 3D printing went mainstream.
No longer is it just a corral of startups. Last year, tech giants such as HP and General Electric became major players in the world of 3D printing. Now that more and more companies enter the fray, costs should go down thanks to healthy free market competition.
I’m very excited to see where the industry goes in 2017. We’re heading into a revolution, where 3D printing could really satisfy some of our most dire needs.
Let’s take this time to look back at how 3D printing grew in 2016, and I’ll offer some predictions regarding what 3D printing can do this year.
2016: 3D Printing in the Mainstream
Last year, the industry grew from eliciting a “Huh? What’s that?” reaction from many people to a “Whoa!” Companies were able to print a dinosaur, transplantable human tissue, and even a house.
In May, HP revolutionized the industry by announcing the Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution — bringing 3D printing to scale. This allowed companies to print materials up to 10 times faster and at half the cost of anything on the market at the time. Major brands such as Nike and BMW were announced as launch partners.
Imagine that: the shoes you’re wearing could be 3D printed. Parts to your brand-new BMW could come from a 3D printer, not a factor.
Before HP’s innovation, 3D printing had been costly and difficult to scale. It signaled a shift from niche manufacturers to big tech. HP, now a disruptor, fired its biggest salvo at the $12 trillion manufacturing industry.
Not to be outdone, General Electric went shopping. GE purchased two 3D printing firms — Sweden’s Arcam AB and Germany’s Concept Laser. Altogether, GE invested roughly $1.5 billion in 3D printing last year.
GE told the press that they foresee 3D printing becoming a $1 billion part of the business by 2020. GE plans to print 40,000 fuel nozzles for jet engines by that time.
Carbon (which Alphabet and GE have invested in) unleashed its M1 printer in April, with Ford being an early partner. Simiens also released its “spider robot” 3D technology — a spider-like group of printers who can work collaboratively.
Last year also saw exciting developments from smaller companies, such as XJet, Nano Dimension, and Rize, but I feel that the entry into the market by GE and HP were the biggest waves made.
2017: 3D Printing Skyrockets
Now that the foundation is set by agile tech firms like HP and GE, I can foresee a springboard effect for the industry this year.
One major way the industry could grow this year is through the medical field. 3D printers have proven they can create implants, but until now the cost has been prohibitive. As more companies develop this technology, there’s no stopping what we’re able to do.
Already, scientists at Harvard University are developing a 3D-printed “kidney on a chip,” allowing researchers to test how a human kidney would react to various stimuli. One day, we might even be able to 3D print a functioning kidney.
Many experts believe that by 2020, 30 percent of medical implants will come from a 3D printer instead of another human. I believe that’s a conservative estimate. With the rise of this technology, having access to low-cost and easily-produced human tissue will be here sooner than we know it. I fully expect the medical industry to be one of, if not the leading vertical for 3D printing companies in 2017.
Another factor which will further stimulate growth in the industry is the fact that STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are finally on the rise again in our schools. I think this will be the year that our brightest young minds will have access to 3D printing and start planning for the next wave of innovation.
Lastly, this could also be the year when 3D printing takes a greater importance in space. As Elon Musk and SpaceX have proven, the aerospace industry is primed for disruption. Musk has talked about how 3D printed materials are crucial to SpaceX’s mission, while Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are also well aware of the utility 3D printing provides.
While 2020 is the year that everyone seems to think 3D printing will make its biggest breakthrough, I feel that 2017 will be one of the most important years in the rocketship growth of the industry. Now that 3D printing has the ability to scale, more and more companies (and even our children) will have the ability to create like never before.