What if machines could print human hearts? Well, technology may not be far off – with an expected CAGR of 23.3% over the next seven years, 3D printing is disrupting industries around the world.
Invented just 40 years ago, you could say 3D printing is a relatively new area of technology.Since its inception however, we’ve already seen it build a futuristic bridge in Amsterdam, a housing complex in Kenya, clothing, food items and even mouse ovaries. With the 3D printing market set to grow to US$35b by 2030, global companies are rapidly adopting new practices to maximise the benefits the technology offers.
One such example is in military and defence. With over 17,000 different suppliers, the U.S. Navy is hoping to reduce as much as 80% of its lead time in procuring materials by moving the manufacturing process internally. Partnering with Australian global defence contractor, Austal ($ASB), the Navy opened the Additive Manufacturing Centre of Excellence, to centralise all R&D surrounding additive manufacturing (another term for 3D printing). At present, there are already over 500 parts approved for 3D printing – U.S. Naval warships are scheduled to start carrying their own 3D printers in order to replace necessary parts on demand.
Another sector poised for revolution is medicine. Development in 3D bioprinting has already seen the printing of human skin, blood vessels, bones and even kidneys and livers. While 3D-printed internal organs haven’t yet been approved for human use, 2022 brought the first successful 3D-printed ear transplant. In the U.S. alone, over 106,800 people are currently awaiting organ donors, with only an average of 34,000 organs being provided each year. With companies like 3D Systems ($DDD) and Desktop Metal ($DM) investing heavily in bioprinting R&D, we might one day make these waitlists a remnant of the past.
Are there any limitations to 3D printing? Well, some people have tried 3D-printing a 3D printer – and it actually worked. But not all materials can be used in printing at this stage, nor can 3D printers generate as much as industrial machines can. It’s one space to watch; perhaps someday, imagination will be the only limit.