THE BLOG
10/30/2013 10:24 am ET Updated Dec 30, 2013

The Future of 3D Printing

I have been writing about 3D Printing (also called Additive Manufacturing) for over 20 years. At first the technology was used for rapid prototyping. Over the past few years, however, rapid advances in processing power, storage, and bandwidth have catapulted this technology into a tool for manufacturing finished products that include jewelry, shoes, dresses, car dashboards, parts for jet engines, jawbones for humans, replacement parts for synthesizers, and much more.

Numerous companies are currently benefiting from 3D printing. For example, a Belgian company, LayerWise, used 3D printing to create a jawbone that was recently implanted into an 83-year-old woman. An Australian company, Inventech, has created what they call their 3D BioPrinters to print tissue structures using human tissue. And Bespoke Innovations is using 3D printing to create prosthetic limb castings.

This amazing technology can also be used for on-demand printing of spare parts--something the U.S. military is already doing in the field. Knowing this, it is not hard to see that in the future, a manufacturer could sell a machine or system to a company, and as part of their maintenance and support contract they can put their 3D printer on-site with the licensed software to print replacement parts as needed. In the near future we'll even see 3D printers have the ability to print two or more different materials at the same time, which will unlock many more applications since numerous goods consist of more than one material.

3D printing will definitely become more commonplace in the coming years thanks to its many benefits, including the ability to print the complete part without assembly and the ability to print complex inner structures too difficult to be machined. Additionally, the entire process produces much less waste than traditional manufacturing where large amounts of material have to be trimmed away from the usable part. Because this technology is growing so fast and can do so much, it is something that manufacturers of all sizes can no longer ignore.

Whether you call it 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing, it is advancing quickly on a global level and offers something that up until recently was impossible: On-demand, anytime, anywhere, by anyone manufacturing. The time to take action on this technology is now. Remember, if you don't, your competition will.