3D printing is arguably the most interesting, useful and potentially disruptive of the exciting array of technologies gradually becoming available. Its claim to being disruptive is a potent one: Supply chains are predicated on the idea of getting the parts and eventually the finished products from here to there. Indeed, moving things around pervades the process.
3D printing changes that dynamic radically. In some cases, it eliminates the geographical element. The supply chain becomes less of a chain.
3D printing is showing no signs of slowing down. Indeed, it is growing radically. This week, Wohlers Associates released the twenty-first edition of its market assessment. The category had a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.9 percent last year. Its worldwide category finished the year with a value of $5.165 billion. The three-year CAGR was 33.8 percent. Perhaps the most impressive figure was the 27-year CAGR: 26.2 percent. That’s a long time to sustain yearly growth of a quarter.
Part of the success of 3D printing, which is also called additive manufacturing, is that it is varied. Indeed, it is far more diverse than most people realize:
Wohlers Associates reports that, despite challenges, growth continued in many segments of the diverse industry, particularly in metal AM and the desktop 3D printer segments. In 2015, 62 manufacturers sold industrial-grade AM systems (valued at more than $5,000), compared to 49 in 2014, and twice as many as the 31 companies that sold industrial systems in 2011.
Innovation fuels the growth. Today, Computerworld reported on a technique being developed at MIT. The story says that printing liquids has “long been a challenge” for 3D printing. Researchers at the school’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab announced a 3D-printed robot – including hydraulics, which require liquids – that can be printed at one time. In essence, the robot can walk out of the printer.
The ability to print liquids at the same time as solids is a big step. Katherine Noyes, senior correspondent at IDG News Service, describes the process:
Most approaches to printing liquids have required additional post-printing steps such as manual cleaning, making the liquid step tricky to include in factory-scale manufacturing. With the new technique, an inkjet printer deposits individual droplets of material that are each 20 to 30 microns in diameter — less than half the width of a human hair. The printer deposits different materials layer by layer and then uses high-intensity UV light to solidify the non-liquid portions.
Gizmag reported on another advance this week. At American University, researchers have 3D-printed a ‘sponge-like matrix’ that eliminates pollutants. This is the first time that a 3D printer has created something that is chemically active.
In the space of a week, news items appeared that pointed to sustained aggressive growth of 3D printing and research at two schools that will enable 3D printers of the future – and the not-too-distant future, it seems – to print significantly more valuable and varied products. This will affect how business is done in deep ways.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.