Editor’s note: This blog post is part of a two-part series on the emergence of 3D printing. The first segment discusses how 3D printing helps business expedite the manufacturing process by creating viable prototypes.
It would be misleading to just write about how 3D printing can expedite the manufacturing process while reducing labor and materials costs.
The truth is that the industry still faces several challenges:
Some newer 3D print manufacturers lack robust operations, leading to some pretty long lead times to fulfill orders and install printers. Additionally, many manufacturers simply sell you the printer but lack the network and resources to provide maintenance and repair services for it.
Lack of industry-wide standardization
Some platforms from different manufacturers can talk to each other, but often they can’t. Manufacturers are very competitive, so it would be nice to see more cooperation and collaboration that eventually leads to standardization and innovation.
Just look at what Elon Musk is doing in the automotive industry. Tesla opened up its patents for free because Musk believes in expanding the market and innovation advances that causes.
Copyright infringement in the 3D space is a very complicated issue. Hobbyists have fewer restrictions when it comes to printing something for personal use, but companies are still trying to navigate the red tape involved in scanning and printing items.
Intellectual property expert Michael Weinberg recently wrote a white paper on the topic of copyrighting 3D scans, and distinguishes between “representational scans” made without creative intent and “expressive scans” which are meant to deviate from the original.
The recent drupa print tradeshow that attracted more than 200,000 participants to Dusseldorf, Germany, featured the theme “Touch the Future” and included the latest 3D print technology.
As 3D printing expands into new territories and applications, Becoming 3D CEO Grant Sadowski notes a few trends we should monitor:
- Established tech companies getting involved. For years the major players in 3D printing were Stratasys, EnvisionTEC, 3D Systems and EOS. Now global entities like HP are getting into the commercial market and making their presence known at tradeshows and other industry events.
- Consolidation. Sadowski predicts that the proliferation of 3D printer manufacturers is not sustainable and that eventually there will be only five to six viable players in the commercial 3D-printer market.
- Production manufacturing. Cheap labor has pushed a lot of manufacturing overseas, but 3D printing may bring a lot of it back to the United States. As more companies use 3D printers to make end products and not just prototypes, the cost of production on many products will drop. This is especially true for smaller production runs and personalized product manufacturing.
- Diversity of materials. Beyond plastic and metal, the 3D printers of tomorrow might be able to print skin grafts, organs, and materials with touch-sensitive or conductive properties. It’s not the stuff of science fiction anymore.
I should mention that with our network of expert service technicians across North America, we at Bell and Howell are excited to be playing a vital role in this dynamic and expanding world of 3D printing.