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3D Printing: Then and Now | SignalWire

3D Printing: Then and Now

It’s almost 2019, and by now we’re all acquainted with how a 3D printer works…but 10 years ago the masses were enamored with this new tech. Additive manufacturing was patented back in 1983, but around 2010 the technology gained viral attention as high prices started to drop. Industry leaders were very optimistic about the tremendous impact 3D printing would have on our future. Here are a few predictions for what 3D printing would look like by 2019 and how they measured up in (almost) 2019.
Prediction from 2010: Half of all Households will have a 3D printer

  • In 2010, we thought that at least half of all households would own a desktop 3D printer and that they would be incredibly useful to our lives. Anytime we would need anything, like a ruler or a cup, we could just print it! We would never have to leave the house again! Printing would be the new Instagram! We also predicted that every school in the US would have a 3D printer in the classroom and kids would grow up knowing how to operate them.
  • The truth: In 2018, half of a million 3D desktop printers were sold worldwide. There are 325 million people in America alone. While 3D printer sales are impressively increasing, we are a long way from having one in every household. The truth is: they’re just not that useful. Of course they have a place with startups who need prototypes, tech enthusiasts, and people who make jewelry on Etsy, but the average person simply does not need one. I’m not going to shell out $500 just to print out a single Christmas ornament and then leave the printer sitting in dust forever as I slowly forget it exists. If I need a household object, it’s easier to order it online. 3D printing is being integrated into STEM programs in schools, but not as rapidly as we hoped ten years ago. Many leaders advocate for 3D printing in educational settings, but it may be awhile until we see a real impact there.

Prediction from 2010: 3D printing will save lives

  • The wait time it takes to get off of the transplant list is dangerously long. There are over 93,000 people on the kidney waiting list right now. In 2010, we dream of an age where we could actually 3D print functioning organs and use them in transplants. There would be lower rejection rates and no one would have to wait for a donation! A lot of lives will be saved by eliminating donor shortages entirely.
  • The truth: Two years ago doctors performed a kidney transplant in a young child using 3D printed organ models to prepare and practice for a difficult surgery. Since then, this method has definitely saved lives…but does anyone have an actual 3D printed organ inside of them? Last year a man in Australia received the world’s first Tibia transplant using a 3D printed bone (but that doesn’t technically count as an organ). So far, researchers have successfully printed a heart, liver, and kidney and several mice have been healthily transplanted with bioprinted livers. But we’ve got a long road of trials before these methods are used on humans.

Prediction from 2010: New printers made specifically for manufacturing

  • New 3D printing machines will be designed specifically for manufacturing in factories. The machines will have niche skills and be integral in creating industrial parts.
  • The truth: Big industries are slow to change, but 3D printing is growing popular for manufacturers. Most of additive manufacturing lies in building prototypes, but molds for things like jewelry and industrial parts are starting to be 3D printed as well. While giant industrial parts aren’t being printed quite yet, some smaller parts for airliners are already being printed. In a few more years leaders predict that additive manufacturing will be wildly popular in factories because it will be cheaper and faster.

Prediction from 2010: New products will come out shockingly quick

  • Any kind of product you can imagine will be created twice as quickly. Cars, toasters, cell phones…anything! 3D printing will mean faster prototyping which means a faster development of products, which means we’ll be introduced to new technology more often.
  • The truth: Data shows that the acceleration of product development is the biggest priority for companies using 3D printing. In fact, prototyping and proof of concept models are two of the most popular applications for 3D printing in 2018. Companies are focused on pumping products out faster…but is it working? According to Sculpteo’s 4th edition of their study, The State of 3D Printing, “93% of companies using 3D printing in 2018 are able to gain competitive advantages including reducing time-to-market and flexing to support shorter production runs for customers.” Have we seen a noticeable influx of new products thanks to 3D printing alone? Not quite, but the stats do show that it helps streamline the process for businesses.

Prediction from 2010: 3D printing industrial strength goods

  • By 2019, entire airplanes and cars will be built with 3D printers. Your house will also be filled with appliances made from additive manufacturing. Everything you know and love was made by a 3D printer.
  • The truth: Aerospace companies love 3D printing because it decreases costs for them. 3D printed parts can have more streamlined designs to make them lighter which therefore saves airline companies money in fuel and makes them safer and faster. Airbus uses 3D printed parts more than any other airline; their A350 XWB aircraft using over 1,000 parts additively manufactured. NASA even made a functioning space rover prototype with 70 3D printed parts in it. 3D printed parts aren’t popular in our current automobiles, but some people are buying printed parts for vintage vehicles that have rare mechanics. The first 3D printed car is currently on the market…but it can only go 43 mph and it’s not very attractive. Seeing as this barely counts as a car, I’m going to say we have room for improvement in this 3D printing prediction.

Prediction from 2010: You will customize literally everything you buy

  • In the future, every product you will ever own will be customized to you. 3D printing businesses are going to have a big edge over the market because they will offer regular items for an average price…but they’re custom. Phone cases, hearing aids, jewelry…everything.
  • The truth: This prediction falls flat. While 3D printing is more popular than it was ten years ago, we aren’t customizing every product we could ever want. There isn’t a big demand for customizable products, especially when you can purchase anything you could think of from Amazon (and other online stores) and have it delivered the next day, or even the next hour. Most of the custom 3D printed consumer goods on the market are novelties: like 3D printed chocolate! It seems that printing isn’t ever going to be a household staple. However, a few specific industries use customization often. For example, many hearing aids are made with additive printing and customization is very useful in the prosthetics industry.

Prediction from 2010: 3d print shops will be at every mall in America

  • There are going to be tons and tons of 3D printing shops. You send them your design, they print it, and you pick it up the next day. They will operate just like any other print shop, except it will be 3D, and they operate in shopping malls.
  • The truth: This prediction is right and wrong. In 2018, it’s not as if everywhere you turn you see a 3D print shop, but a few already established companies have moved into this market. UPS stores, Staples, and Office Depot all perform 3D printing jobs for customers. However, most of these envisioned “3D print shops” are actually online transactions, as most of our shopping is these days. Although, one mall shop in America will scan you and 3D print a statue of you. So that sort of counts?

Prediction from 2010: There will be a ton of high profile pirating lawsuits

  • Because we’ve never seen this technology before, there will be legal chaos. Who owns the rights to physical intellectual property when you can easily print the objects at home?
  • The truth: The biggest lawsuit surrounding 3D printing is whether or not it is lawful to 3D print a gun. The saga is a long one: at first being approved, then being blocked by a judge, and now a small company in Austin releasing the blueprints anyways. Not exactly the IP fight we predicted. Standing now, the laws for Intellectual Property rights are the same as any other product design and while there have been lawsuits over alleged piracy, it hasn’t been a cataclysmic issue. Seeing as most 3D printing is found in manufacturing and not households, not a lot of people are pirating high profile objects. (Plus, a lot of designs are online for free).

Prediction from 2010: An overwhelming amount of new business models centered around 3d printing

  • An overwhelming amount of startups are going to flourish thanks to 3D printing. Of course, competition will eventually even out the number, but new business models will be centered around 3D printing.
  • The truth: The biggest change in business models centered around 3D printing is that big companies are starting to have their own facilities dedicated to 3D printing expertise. Now that printing in manufacturing is becoming more popular, businesses want to be as educated as possible in order to stay ahead of the technology curb.

Prediction from 2010: “New products with magical properties will tantalize us”

  • In 2012, Forbes predicted that “New products – that can only be created on 3D printers – will combine new materials, nano scale and printed electronics to exhibit features that seem magical compared to today’s manufactured products.”
  • The truth: In my research, I have not found any magical objects that can only be made with a 3D printer…but you can make fun knick knacks for your desk! Tweet us @FreeSWITCH if you ever come across a magical 3D printed object, I want to see it.

Do you own a 3D printer? How often do you use it? Let us know @FreeSWITCH on Facebook or Twitter.