As the price of three-dimensional printers has come down, more and more businesses are using the technology to create prototypes and drive ideas. 3D printing impacts nearly every type of business you can imagine — both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) models.
Experts predict 3D printing will usher us into a fourth Industrial Revolution. By 2026, statistics show 3D printing services reaching $50 billion a year. Additive manufacturing — 3D printing used to build an object — is becoming more and more popular and is changing the way companies do business in several ways.
1. Changing Manufacturing
For many years, workers have complained about machines and robots displacing them. However, 3D printers may increase this trend even more. The way manufacturers do business will change, so it’s less of a hands-on assembly process and more machine-operated. Workers will need skills such as design and programming to work in these industries.
A couple of years ago, Adidas unveiled a new 3D-printed sneaker called Futurecraft. They use additive manufacturing to create the soles of the shoes. Their research and use of 3D technology is the next wave in sportswear and may revolutionize the industry.
2. Shifting Real Estate
For many years now, real estate agents have used 3D images and 360-degree videos. They show home buyers potential properties without the consumer ever leaving their home. 3D printing is changing the way real estate works in a couple of unexpected ways. For builders, it is often tricky to re-imagine a description from a client into an actual building. With 3D printing, architects can recreate the design in a smaller format and make sure to lay everything out the way the buyer imagines.
3D renderings aren’t printed, but appear on the screen, and are also useful for staging a potential space and making on-the-fly modifications. You’ve probably seen this type of technology in use on home improvement shows such as “Fixer Upper” and “Property Brothers.”
3. Advancing Health Care
Some people have been waiting for years to receive a lifesaving organ transplant. However, as 3D printers become more and more advanced, expect to see 3D printed replacement parts for our bodies become more commonplace. Researchers are testing artificial liver, kidney and heart models. What’s particularly exciting about printing an organ for someone is that the process allows customization to suit the unique needs of individuals. Imagine, for example, a heart perfectly sized for a child’s chest cavity. These printers use biological tissue to complete the printing process.
Student researchers at the University of Toronto developed a 3D bioprinter that helps doctors treat those with deep skin wounds that would normally require skin grafting. The printer designed by U of T forms the skin, deposits it and sets it in place in under two minutes. Although the printer is a B2B model that will be available to hospitals and medical institutes, it also serves the B2C population with the end product.
4. Helping Parents
Many parents worry about the current generation and their focus on mobile devices. It isn’t uncommon to see a 5-year-old with their head buried in Mom’s smartphone. One way of getting kids engaged with something other than social media or online games and videos is giving them something more interesting to play with. As the cost of 3D printers goes down, the technology becomes affordable enough for every family to have a 3D printer in their homes. Kids can now use technology to become inventors, creators and researchers, testing out their hypotheses and seeing what applications work and what don’t. Parents have an opportunity to build a new generation of Einsteins.
5. Entertaining the Masses
3D technology is exciting and new enough that its potential uses fascinate people. You don’t necessarily have to be a designer or invest hundreds of dollars in a printer to take advantage of the fun of 3D design. There is free software available that allows users to create images, make cartoons, create a game or model potential inventions.
Yo Frankie! is a game created on Blender. For kids wanting to get into gaming, this is an excellent way for them to test out skills and learn a bit about creating a unique world before spending thousands on an education to learn game designing.
6. Customizing Products
Consumers expect a tailored experience these days. That personalization could translate into the products people use as 3D printing becomes more commonplace. Imagine needing a new spatula for the kitchen and going to your local kitchen supply store to get a customized spatula. It’s made to perfectly fit your hand and meet your needs. 3D printing is perfect for low-volume manufacturing, bringing the cost of creating one-off products down to a reasonable price consumers can afford.
7. Cooking Gourmet Food
Thanks to the technology of byFlow’s food printers, chefs can now create intricate desserts and gourmet dishes with the help of a machine, freeing them up to design truly one-of-a-kind creations to celebrate any occasion. Imagine a couple at a five-star restaurant with one partner getting ready to propose. The server brings out a beautiful, intricate chocolate creation which showcases the engagement ring. 3D technology made this memorable moment possible.
Restaurant Smink is one of the first restaurants to add 3D food printing to their menu. Dutch chef Jan Smink loved the technology. He teamed up with byFlow to permanently put 3D printed food on the menu. Smink wanted to provide his patrons with a unique experience. It’s the first restaurant to offer such interesting shapes while still using local ingredients.
8. Producing Prototypes Faster and Cheaper
All types of businesses have begun using 3D printers. They develop prototypes more quickly and for less cost than ever before. From car manufacturers to inventors, a 3D model shows what works and what doesn’t in a design. This allows the creator to make changes on the fly and perfect the design before going to the expense of having molds made and an item mass produced.
The Future of 3D Printing
As additive manufacturing becomes more commonplace, it may also create some situations where individuals try to copy patented products and create knockoffs as people order them. Businesses will need to be aware of counterfeits and fight against the theft of their intellectual property. Consumers should be cautious of where they order from. They need to protect themselves from thieves and individuals who won’t stand behind the product should something go wrong. The future of 3D printing is exciting, but also comes with challenges business owners will need to navigate to remain competitive.