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3 Advancements in 3-D Printing That Benefit Entrepreneurs 

Three-dimensional printing is a growing industry that will likely change the world. Canalys projects that the global market for 3-D printing will grow to $16.2 billion in 2018. If you’re seeking a new opportunity with uncapped potential, consider how these 3-D printing advancements could open the door for a winning product or service.

The Evolution of Manufacturing

The story of how 3-D printing is changing entrepreneurship lies within the story of a modern day manufacturing evolution. Injection molding has been the standard for manufacturing plastics since its invention in 1872. Similar molding techniques date back to the Egyptians. Considering that, it’s not too surprising that the next manufacturing revolution is upon us. How? Big brands like Adidas, for example, are moving away from controversial warehouses in Southeast Asia for innovative 3-D printing techniques such as as digital light synthesis. The solution will allow the shoe giant to drop their manufacturing time from a month to a week, or less. Other companies like Apple Rubber are using 3-D printing to overhaul their tooling process and increase manufacturing output of their signature o-rings.

The 3-D printing breakthroughs of the past decade have been made with plastics, but the metal manufacturing industry will soon be impacted. The first metal 3-D printers were large and cost $1 million or more. New models are less than half of the cost and offer the usual 3-D printing benefits such as faster, more accurate production and less waste.

The cost and efficiency improvements are occurring across industries as more businesses begin using the technology.

The amount of firms with serious 3-D printing kits (cost > $5,000) increased to 97 this year, up from 62 in 2016, according to a Wohlers report.

Advancing From Prototypes to Production

The production of 3-D-printed prototypes has expanded to entrepreneurs and small businesses. At-home printers like Cubify and MakerBot are in the $1,000 range and can be operated with basic knowledge of CAD software. The next stage is adoption of 3-D printing for full-scale manufacturing. Interestingly, the adoption patterns have not been linear, as illustrated by a Science Direct report. Here’s a quick breakdown of the timeline:

Rapid prototyping: Quickly producing a scale model or part of a product.

  • Started: Early 1990s
  • Adoption stage: Design

Rapid tooling: An expedited version of manufacturing.

  • Started: Late 1990s
  • Adoption stage: Design, Tooling, Manufacturing and Distribution

Direct manufacturing: Producing the product at scale.

  • Started: Late 2000s
  • Adoption stage: Design, Tooling, Manufacturing

Home fabrication: The ability for consumers to produce products.

  • Started: Early 2010s
  • Adoption stages: Design, Tooling, Manufacturing and Distribution

This shows the technology is advancing toward the biggest opportunities. Although prototyping and tooling can be done faster and with less waste, the big 3-D printing opportunity is business manufacturing and the ability of consumers to print things at home or a local library. These advancements will only accelerate in the coming years.

A New Age of Industry Disruption

Ten years ago, we would have never predicted that the hospitality, taxi and TV industries would be eviscerated before our eyes. If the trajectory of 3-D printing continues, more industries — healthcare, auto and toys, just to name a few — will be flipped upside down.

Consider what’s already been done:

And what’s in development:

  • Tissue and organ printers aim to fabricate the size, shape and structural integrity of human tissue. The noteworthy application to date was the creation of a bionic ear by Princeton University scientists. The ear was able to hear radio frequencies beyond human capability.
  • The first 3-D printed house was completed in 2016 by Russian company Apis Cor. The house was the first to be built as a whole, not by part by part. The entire structure was complete within 24 hours.

You don’t have to be a business visionary to see how this technology will disrupt the business world just like the dotcom and smartphone eras before it. The technology is advancing and the applications are extensive. Other industries we haven’t mentioned like sports, aerospace, pharma and more will be impacted.

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