Is 3D Printing the Future of Manufacturing?

In the next decade, the 3D printing industry is expected to be fully prepared for production. Changes in infrastructure will lead many industries to adopt 3D printing as their primary manufacturing process, and the development of technology will gradually shift people's mindsets. Compared to traditional manufacturing, additive manufacturing technology will improve production efficiency and reduce the cost of the final product. Experts anticipate the biggest breakthroughs in technology that will facilitate additive manufacturing.

Printers are likely to become faster, allowing them to work on larger industrial projects. MELD Manufacturing has designed machines that can operate in uncontrolled environments, making them more useful in remote areas and allowing for a wider range of 3D printed structures. With reliable 3D printing and durable materials such as PEEK or metal, it will become ubiquitous in low-volume production applications. Industrial 3D printing fairs and conferences will become more diverse, creating a continuum of capabilities for both original equipment manufacturers and service offices.

By the end of the decade, it will be normal to print circuit boards with a 3D printer and add microchips later. The concept of a circular economy is becoming increasingly popular in 3D printing conferences and exhibitions around the world. In addition to producing face shields and masks, 3D printing has led to innovations in ventilator parts that have saved lives. Retail adoption of 3D printing has been slow due to conventional speed, cost and material limitations. Engineers can use different materials for different purposes, such as 3D printing a bearing with a slippery inner surface and a rigid exterior.

There has been a sharp increase in the percentage of companies using 3D printing for bridge production, from 39% to 56% in two years. On-demand part production allows manufacturers to produce 3D printed parts as needed instead of pulling them out of a supply warehouse. Decentralized production is gaining acceptance, so personalized medical devices can be printed directly at the point of care. However, 3D printing is still relatively expensive, so it is more widely used in high-end manufacturing. By the end of the decade, hands-on experience with 3D printing will be essential for engineering, design and manufacturing professionals.

With 3D printing as its primary manufacturing method, one company was able to quickly convert its lines to produce armor with a low exchange cost. The future of 3D printing lies in purpose-built materials and application-specific materials.