“The next trillion dollar industry” was the name given to 3D printing by Pascal Gobry from Business Insider. Lately 3D printing is suggesting the creation of new opportunities in almost every industry, where with the touch of a button actual objects can be printed out of an array of materials. Printing has now gone way beyond spreading ink on a sheet of paper, to the point where printers are capable of transforming digital files into tree dimensional solid objects by arranging a variety of materials including polymers, glass, metal, wax, edible food, ceramics and even human tissues into complex shapes that would be nearly impossible to replicate by hand. Some of those objects will create the opportunity to save lives, extend others or bring ease to our daily routines. 3D printing objects are achieved by using additive processes, meaning successive layers of material are laid down one on top of another until the desired object is accomplished. The 3d printed object is a superposition of thinly sliced horizontal cross-sections of a chosen material, and the possibilities are breathtaking.
However, it’s not quite as easy as pressing a button. Virtual designs must be created in the form of CAD file (Computed Aided Design) supported by 3D modelling programs. Those programs offer 3D designers the opportunity to conceive objects from nothing and the imagination is free to move beyond the human handiwork. Scanners also produce CAD files enabling existing real objects to be identically replicated in digital format often much quicker than recreating the original object. A software must slice the digital object into horizontal layers so that the printer superposes printed slices one after the other resulting in a three dimensional object. The printing process may be performed by various technologies being improved constantly. Technologies most commonly exploited are selective laser sintering (SLS), fused deposition modelling (FDM) and stereolithography (SLA) each suggesting different advantages and responding to specific demands.
Applications & Industries breakthroughs
The possibility of printing 3D objects will revolutionize most industries since its application is beneficial in many sectors. The application of 3D printing includes design visualization, prototyping, architecture, education, geospatial, healthcare, entertainment, retail and many more…
Companies such as Foodini and the German Print2Taste start-up are exploiting this opportunity of creating innovating designs, shapes and decorations with printed food. The printed objects are edible by printing edible food such as icings or soft food.
China has been getting noticed this year by creating the “Tallest 3D-printed building” in Suzhou. The Chinese company seems to be responding to the need to build fast and efficiently, though they’ll be facing stiff consumer hesitance; previous attempts to build quickly and efficiently have resulted in several high-profile building collapses.
But Ma Yihe, CEO of WinSun, is optimistic about 3D printing in China. He believes his company will build “dream factories” since the process would reduce construction materials of 30 to 60% and labor needed would be cut significantly. It would even be using sand and other waste, enabling more recycling and the technology would “use local materials, build locally and sell locally.” The buildings that result would be a lot cheaper and revolutionize the entire construction industry. Several factories are already being built in China and one is located in Dubai. However, WinSun is very controversial those days for patent reclamations and security concerning the stability between printed layers in the event of an earthquake. But the technology belongs to the Chinese and is ready to be tested, improved and developed very soon.
Medical science and research
Another field that is inspiring the medical science world is 3D bio printing. By printing cells along a predetermined pattern, human tissues, organs, and blood vessels could be replicated. Organ printing would change the medical industry and improve life expectancy drastically. Many biotechnology firms are currently aiming at tissue-engineering applications and about to revolutionize the medical field.
In China particularly there’s a serious shortage of organ donors. Anything that would help the straining medical industry cope with the increasing number of Chinese who can access higher level health care would be welcomed by hospitals. However, China’s notoriously high rates of adoption may not extend to organ 3D printing in China; there’s already a strained relationship between a lot of doctors and patients, and the trust might not be there to convince the population that these printed alternatives are safe. Clinical trials and some high-profile public education campaigns will be necessary.
Manufacturing is being improved by producing complex 3D parts in a single build. Designing is becoming more efficient and the experimentation phase can be completed much faster. Manufacturers have been using 3D printing for a long time to design rapid prototypes and undertake research. But shifting this method to produce directly for the end user will offer customized products at a fraction of the cost and required work. In Hainan province of south China, a Chinese company called Sanya Suhai printed the “first 3D-printed sedan car”. The vehicle measured 3.6 meters long and 1.63 meters wide. It is powered by rechargeable batteries and reached the maximum speed of 25mph, so it’s not ideal but it’s a work in process, and certainly a novel way to use the omnipresent lead acid batteries in China.
Art & Reconstruction
For all those industries, art and reconstructions for education are affected by the rise of 3D printing. Since 2007, 3D Print Art Shows are developing, letting artists express themselves in various new ways. Priceless and unique artefacts in archaeology may be reproduced and help to improve education or research worldwide.
Expand space exploration boundaries
Even NASA is developing this new technology, competing to design and build a 3-D printed habitat for deep space exploration. According to Sam Ortega, Centennial Challenges program manager “The future possibilities for 3D printing are inspiring, and the technology is extremely important to deep space exploration.”
China has programs of its own too; the Chinese space program is building 3D printed space suits. 3D printing would allow astronauts to print items with a 3D printer directly in space with no freight difficulties. Those are being developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. With serious research into 3D printing in China astronauts will be safer in their suits while spacewalking, and extra suits can be constructed as they’re needed, saving time, money and resources.
New opportunities & services embraced by the Chinese government
3D printing was already getting investments from the Chinese government in the early 1990s, investments of $3.3 million were injected into in innovating institutes to promote manufacturing technologies.
As 3D printing requires mastering technologies and the capacity to create new objects relies on 3D designers, China recently founded the first 3D Printing College in the world, Baiyun-Winbo 3D Printing Technology College in Guangzhou. The popularisation of 3D printing would increase the demand for people producing the digital files and China is planning to be ready to respond to that need. There are also 3D printing bureaus such as Shapeways and Ponoko offering inexpensive digital designs but the range of objects is relatively limited. In addition, according to Simon Shen, CEO of Kinpo Group, in the next two years, the Chinese government is planning to install 3D printers in 400,000 elementary schools and would benefit the Chinese society in the long run as the people would be educated and skilled in 3D tech from a young age.
The currently top rated industrial printer is the Objet Eden 260. But the industrial Chinese printer CTC-3D is getting very popular and could reach the top place in the near future. According to Jenny Lawton, CEO of MakerBot, 3D printing will become mainstream, and certainly, 3D printing is getting implemented in China at a very fast pace. Last year, China International 3D Printing Exhibition was held twice and recognised as one of the most valuable industry shows in the world.
Fast growth & Transformations of 3D Printing in China
The size of the 3D printing industry and the speed at which it is growing can be measured by many factors. The world’s leading information technology research American company, Gartner, is forecast to sell 217,000 3D printers this year and more than the double in a year. They would reach a total of 434,000 machines by 2016.
The particularly fast growth of 3D printing can also be attributed to the support of open source platforms putting in common people’s effort to build the most efficient machinery. RepRap is a 3D printer sold for about 1000 dollars enabling people to customized and develop open source ideas. Communities such as Thingiverse and Cubify are gaining more and more interest in those open sources that would provide hyper-customization and support sustainable development.
Enthusiasts for 3D printing are growing fast since 2011, thanks to the rapid development, acceptable price ($250 to $2500). Diversified people are acquiring 3D printers and large-scale utilisations will increase customer options. Fabrication may become totally personalized after adaptation of pre-fabricated digital object. And 3D printing lets print-on-demand and mass customization as possible future outcomes. This May, the highest rated desktop printer for personal printing was the Form 1+. It reached more than 400 reviews of fully satisfied customers and is considered by 3D Hubs as the most popular resin printer.
The democratization of the 3D printing technology and knowledge is expected to change the nature of commerce according to specialists. Indeed, end users will be able to manufacture their products on their own meaning that products wouldn’t be bought from other people or corporations. Trade of the digital 3D object will however remain so would the raw material. A long marge of progression still remains before reporting such transformations but in our lifetime new concepts are ready to revolutionize many industries and China making sure that it stays abreast of changes in advance, compared to foreign countries. As the president of VisenTOP, Xiao Guodong stated, “At present, people in China are both passionate and perplexed by 3D printing technology.”
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