The 3D printing sector is entering maturity and has already infiltrated many sectors. Here, we discuss the variety of current 3D printing applications, trends currently shaping the sector, the size and development of the current global market, and how this may change in the future.
The 3D printer is revolutionizing industries from manufacturing to healthcare. Back in the 2000s, 3D printers were expensive and only accessible to Fortune 500 companies and major research universities. Around a decade later, the RepRap project began in the UK, which released 3D printer designs with open-source licenses on the web. The project suddenly made 3D printing accessible for all and opened the door to an almost infinite number of applications across a vast range of industries.
Applications of 3D Printing
3D printing was first leveraged as a manufacturing tool. One of its first applications was as a prototyping method, which allowed for advantages over traditional injection-molded prototyping which was slow and expensive. 3D printing rapidly took off in manufacturing by enabling companies to develop prototypes in a matter of hours, not weeks, at significantly lower costs.
Another industry where 3D printing has had a major impact is the medical industry. For several years, 3D printing applications have been emerging in medicine, ranging from bioprinting - where 3D printers are used to produce biological structures that mimic their natural counterparts, to medical devices such as medical implants and prosthetics. 3D printing’s versatility is perhaps best demonstrated by its applications in prosthetics. Here, it is being used to create prosthetics that better fit the patient. With 3D printing, prosthetics can be made to the measurements of the individual quickly and cheaply. The advent of 3D-printed prosthetics has meant that third-world countries now have access to this life-changing healthcare and children who readily outgrow their prosthetics are able to have new prosthetics printed regularly.
Other sectors that are currently leveraging 3D printing include construction, where 3D printing is being used to fabricate buildings - with the world’s first 3D printed residential budding completed in Russia in 2017; aerospace, where 3D printing is being increasingly used to produce parts - particularly for rockets (ArianeGroup's injector head for the Ariane 6 launcher, a joint venture of Airbus Group and Safran, is an example of this); and education, where 3D printing is allowing students to create prototypes without expensive tooling, bridging the gap between ideas on the screen to the 3D world.
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In particular, this technology revolutionizes STEM education by producing low-cost high-quality scientific equipment and prototypes.
Hot Topics in 3D Printing
More medical applications will emerge from the 3D printing industry in the near future. Research shows that the technology will soon be able to reproduce human organs. 3D bioprinting will be used to produce the scaffold of an organ, which will then be populated with stem cells to grow the tissue.
Applications of 3D printing in drug development are also making waves right now. In 2015, Aprecia Pharmaceuticals’ Spritam levetiracetam was approved by the FDA, making it the first 3D-printed drug to gain market approval. The advent of 3D-printed drugs might improve drug distribution and, in particular, help in the fight against infectious diseases.
Another hot topic in 3D printing that applies to the medical field is that of 4D printing. Already, another dimension has been added to the groundbreaking technology that may be leveraged in drug research, biosensor development, and optics. It is predicted that 4D printing may help develop therapies for rare diseases and establish biomedical implants that can adapt to the microenvironment around the organ.
One area where 3D printing has shown potential recently is in emergency response infrastructure. ICON, a start-up based in Texas, as well as California-based Mighty Buildings, have both used 3D printing to produce buildings. Their building took 95% fewer labor hours to construct, and generated 10 times less waste than traditional construction projects. This fast, cheap, and efficient building process has the potential to be leveraged in the construction of emergency response centers and temporary hospitals when catastrophes strike.
One final hot topic in the 3D printing sector is that of 3D-printed clothes. The clothing industry is known for producing vast amounts of waste, which can be tackled by producing clothes via 3D printing. It also allows for clothing to be crafted to fit the individual perfectly, getting a tailored fit in an instant.
Current Global Market of 3D Printing
The global 3D printing market was valued at $13.84 billion in 2021 and is predicted to grow rapidly, at a CAGR of 20.8% from 2022 to 2030 to reach a value of $76.17 billion. In 2021, roughly 2.2 million units of 3D printers were shipped, this will reach 21.5 million units by 2030. Research and development in sectors such as healthcare and aerospace will fuel market growth over the next decade.
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Currently, North America holds the largest share of the global market in terms of revenue (30%), which is attributed to the extensive adoption of 3D printing in this region. Additionally, the US and Canada have been some of the most important early adopters of the technology. The second largest regional market is Europe.
Asia Pacific, however, is expecting the highest CAGR over the next decade, which is attributed to the rapid adoption of 3D printing in the region, particularly in manufacturing. Additionally, Asia Pacific is emerging as a hub of manufacturing for healthcare and automotive.
Current industry key players include Stratasys, Ltd., Materialis, EnvisionTec, Inc., 3D Systems, Inc., GE Additive, Autodesk Inc., Made In Space, Canon Inc., and Voxeljet AG.
Future Directions of 3D Printing
Future directions in 3D printing will be dictated by demand across the various industries in which it has currently found applications. In particular, healthcare will drive innovation in the sector, given the growing demand for novel drugs for both rare and common diseases and biomedical devices.
We will likely see many new applications of 3D printing emerge in the next 10 years, with many that will likely improve healthcare. Regions including North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific will be at the forefront of this industry.
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References and Further Reading
10 Exciting Applications Of 3D Printing That Could Revolutionize Industry And Society [online]. Forbes. Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2021/10/04/10-exciting-applications-of-3d-printing-that-could-revolutionize-industry-and-society/ (Last accessed November 2022)
Manero A, Smith P, Sparkman J, Dombrowski M, Courbin D, Kester A, Womack I, Chi A. Implementation of 3D Printing Technology in the Field of Prosthetics: Past, Present, and Future. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2019; 16(9):1641. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16091641
Seung-Schik Yoo. 3D-printed biological organs: medical potential and patenting opportunity. Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Patents. 2015;25(5):507-511. 10.1517/13543776.2015.1019466
The First FDA Approved Drug Made by a 3D printer is Levetiracetam [online]. Epilepsy Foundation. Available from: https://www.epilepsy.com/stories/first-fda-approved-drug-made-3d-printer-levetiracetam (Last accessed November