This article is focused on the 3D printing industry and its anticipated trends going forward, as discussed by M3D's CEO Michael Armani. Michael compares 3D printers to monochrome 8-bit computers in terms of technological development, describes 3D printers of the future, and projects M3D's expansion into new fields.
As leaders in the 3D printing industry, here at M3D we look beyond recent hype and see clearly where the trends are going. The contrast between how we operate in today’s economy and how we plan to run our business in the future looking just 5 years out will be dramatic, and it may blindside those who aren’t in the know.
Today’s 3D printers are technologically very similar to where monochrome 8-bit computers were in the 1980s. "Moore’s Law" has predicted that computers will be where they are at today, and we see some very similar trends with key distinctions in 3D printing. Like with computers or monitors, the similarity with “Moore’s Law” for 3D printers includes an increase in print resolution and speed, although at a slower rate than with computers.
The key distinction in 3D printing, however, is that the real “Moore’s Law" will be based on capacity for printing in specific types of materials, number of different materials used, and automated assembly between multiple types of printers to apply special materials or processes. The 3D printers of the future may be large, containing reservoirs of hundreds of different inks, standardized electronics, programming modules, batteries, lights, conductive wires, colors, and finishes.
These industrial printers of the future will have large costs at first and they’ll grow increasingly affordable. They will be able to assemble and manufacture products digitally, in a predictable way, with very little fuel costs, and little to no material waste. What is even more cool, they are agnostic to designs and can print something with a curvy aesthetic just as easily as something that is a plain box. They may also make products that cost less and have more capabilities, such as being very compact, because they are not limited by conventional manufacturing. In doing these things, they democratize the design process, and revolutionize the way economies of scale work.
Today’s products are almost exclusively made with traditional methods like injection molding, printed circuit boards, and various types of metal-working, all of which are assembled in low-cost manufacturing centers. They are shipped over 10000 miles and stocked in huge quantities and distributed by trucks throughout the country. The upfront costs, labor, and fuel needed are huge, and the amount of material wasted is also significant.
In 5 years, we will see industrial 3D printers that show us more clearly how marketplaces like Amazon, Walmart, and Kickstarter will eventually combine to become a localized manufacturing and distribution hub for many different types of products including consumer, and industrial needs. We may even see one mega industrial printer for every 100 households, so that you may order and pickup your products within hours or minutes right down the street.
When this eventually happens, it will herald a new renaissance, which like all major technological advances will make us drastically change the way we think about shipping, inventory, trade, borders, manufacturing, assembly, costs, taxes, engineering, design, and art. It can even have impact on religious proportions.
And that’s only looking at the industrial / consumer product side of things. 3D Printers for printing human organs will be able to print functional, biocompatible organs in potentially less time. They can do this because printing half functioning organs may be possible, and getting one of these implanted is obviously preferable to dying waiting for a human kidney donor. Over many decades our ability to control the organ lifespan and efficiency will increase, along with the difficulty in types of organs produced.
The same bio printers will be able to print true meat (yes, a pink steak with the marble in all the right places) without ever having killed a cow. That’s the kind of thing that can alter people's beliefs and motivations. We’ll also likely see this technology being used for biohacking, and cosmetics. With the right investment applied in the right places (like a NASA sized effort to go to the moon), it’s easily possible to see this kind of bioprinting completed and scaled up within 5 years.
We see another 3D printing trend that could happen within the next 5 years, which only requires one advancement in the way clothing fibers are printed. Plain T-shirts can already be printed at small volumes using traditional inkjet printing. More advanced fiber extrusion and bonding methods will be needed. When that happens, we'll see a future of seamless clothing that is cheaper to print daily than to buy, and possibly is recyclable and disposable. The day will come when our kids are made fun of for wearing the same outfit more than once.
At M3D, we love knowing where the industry is going and we wanted to contribute to this revolution. That’s why in 2014 we made the first consumer 3D printer; a low-cost, easy to use machine, that allowed over 50,000 users to get their hands on this technology today, to help make believers out of others, and get others to help us nurture the field. As CEO, I see M3D expanding into many if not all of the fields discussed in this article.
In summary, it is extremely clear that 3D printing is going to massively shake the foundation of how we think about food, medicine, clothing, consumer goods, and industrial design, to say the least. Thus I am reinforcing the idea that we are in the 4th industrial revolution that sees a massive democratization in the way we design, innovate, order, build, and create, - democratization that involves a fusion between computers and physical systems.