We here at Replicator World are always busy exploring the expanding universe of 3D printing.
Whether it is through new applications for the technology, or a new printer entering the scene, we like to keep on top of it all.
But every once in a while we come across something like this recent USA Today article, which begins with the question “Is 3D printing a bust?”
This question came on the heels of an announcement by the industry giant 3D Systems shaving “its forecast for profit this year, blaming manufacturing problems. The company also said revenue for the third fiscal quarter would be $169 million or less, well below the $186.4 million expected by analysts…for the quarter, 3D [Systems] says it plans to earn 19 cents a share or less, potentially below the 18 cents a share expected.”
These “manufacturing problems” the USA Today article references concern the production of 3D Systems’ metal 3D printers. While this is undoubtedly a setback for 3D Systems, this sort of hiccup is expected when attempting to utilize new applications for a technology.
USA Today admits this much, reporting that “analysts rate 3D System’s stock an ‘Outperform’ and see the shares rising to 57.75 over the next 18 months. That would be roughly 50% upside.” Despite the initial struggles of several 3D printing companies to meet demand with increased production capabilities, experts continue to believe that the 3D printing industry will grow.
But then the article decides to drop this bombshell: “Investors shouldn’t expect a smooth rise from an industry that’s still struggling to ramp up production capabilities and try to convince the world why it needs these products.”
Replicator World doesn’t believe the world needs convincing on whether or not it needs 3D printing. We believe the world has already convinced itself.
However, for those who are still unaware, like the USA Today, let us enlighten you why the world needs 3D printing.
It is true that 3D Systems is struggling (somewhat) when it comes to ramping up its production capabilities for metal 3D printers. But while 3D Systems is momentarily struggling, another tech giant is angling to take its place in the 3D printing arena.
According to CNET, “Hewlett-Packard made its long-awaited move into 3D printing…revealing the Multi Jet Fusion technology that will power new 3D commercial and manufacturing printers.”
This new 3D printing process involves “building an entire surface area, instead of one point at a time, substantially speeding up 3D imaging….[HP] claims that the new technology is 10 times faster than that in existing 3D printers, is more affordable, and prints stronger products than current offerings in the market.”
On top of Multi Jet Fusion technology, HP also announced “the new Sprout, a desktop computer that works as a dual-screen creative console, with its own projector and a 3D capable scanner.”
“Beyond the current use of thermoplastics HP [also] plans to develop new 3D printing materials using color, ceramic, and metal. The company eventually wants to offer the same set of colors it already does for traditional printing. Multi Jet Fusion currently prints in fused nylon, to an accuracy of 20 microns.”
If 3D printing were a bust, a giant of the tech industry like HP wouldn’t even mention its existence, let alone invest in the development of its technology.
To be fair, HP’s involvement will focus on the more industrial side of 3D printing, and even then their Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers won’t “become generally available until 2016.”
So perhaps HP’s announcement, in and of itself, won’t convince everyone that 3D printing will soon become an integral part of their lives. But we believe these news items about the 3D printing industry, just from the last month, will.
Indeed, the Telegraph is already reporting that the 3D printing industry will be worth $4.8 billion in 2018, and that’s a conservative estimate. (For context, in 2013, the 3D printing industry was worth $1.15 billion.)
Take, for instance, another recent CNET article, which chronicled the efforts of doctors at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian to save the life of a baby with a congenital heart defect.
With the help of Materialise’s Cardiovascular Business Development Manager and Mimics Innovation software, the team was able to create a 3D model of the heart, which allowed them to practice a surgery on it, before operating on the baby.
As Dr. Emile Bacha, a congenital heart surgeon and Director of Congenital and Pediatric Cardiac Surgery explains, “The baby’s heart had holes, which are not uncommon with CHD (Congenital Heart Defects), but the heart chambers were also in an unusual formation, rather like a maze. In the past, we had to stop the heart and look inside to decide what to do. With this technique [using a 3D printed model], it was like we had a road map to guide us…. After the success of this surgery, it’s hard to imagine entering an operating room for another complex case without the aid of a 3D printed model. It’s definitely going to be standard of care in the future and we’re happy to be leading the way.”
For those still not convinced, the Graphene 3D Lab in Calverton, New York, has just recently created the first 3D printed Graphene Battery. Forbes wrote that this heralds “an era when consumers will be able to produce their own homemade power sources.”
These 3D printed Graphene batteries “can already produce the same amount of power as a common AA battery…Graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. It is 200 times stronger than steel and conducts electricity 30 times faster than silicon, making it perfect for producing batteries, computer chips, and tough composites for use in the construction of everything from body armor to cars.”
Graphene batteries have been known to provide power for 25% longer than lithium-ion batteries. The advantage of a 3D printed Graphene battery, explains the Graphene 3D Lab team, lies in its flexibility. “The Graphene batteries can be produced using nothing but a 3D printer and a mixture of plastics and Graphene in a nano platelet form, which looks like black powder. This mixture comes as filaments which need to be heated before being formed into any shape or size.”
Heart surgery. Graphene Batteries. Is the world still not convinced of 3D printing’s many uses?
Speaking of Japan – perhaps the most startling revelation in the universe of 3D printing Replicator World discovered this month is the work of computer scientist Yuichiro Takeuchi, who, according to Business Insider,”works with the Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc.,”
Takeuchi wanted to transform the rooftops of his hometown Tokyo into high-rise gardens in order to create a greener environment. Therefore, he created a 3D printing process, which includes “software that he designed to print yarn encasements that hold plant seeds that grow into full-fledged plants in just a few weeks. His 3D printing technology can print gardens that conform to any shape you choose, be it triangular, rectangular, or even panda-shaped. This method hinges on hydroponics where you grow plants with mineral nutrient material in place of soil.”
Creations like this can often be highly expensive and time-consuming, however, which are the two biggest factors “hindering large-scale adoption and preventing greener cities.”
As Takeuchi explains, however, 3D printing could be the answer: “The printing solution takes away much of those hurdles, and also provides a high degree of flexibility (one can print out a garden that fits snugly into any designated space), which hopefully will make hydroponic gardening more attractive for citizens living in dense cities with limited space.”
The world needs this kind of flexibility and innovation. And 3D printing allows humanity to tackle these issues. And people don’t need convincing, because it’s already begun to happen. 3D printing is already becoming integral to people’s lives, from New York to Tokyo.
If 3D printing were, in fact, a ‘bust’, people would stop asking that question, because they would know. The fact that people continue to ask this question, day after day, month after month, year after year, proves that 3D printing is not going away.
The world is already convinced that it needs 3D printing.
Photo Courtesy of CNET
Quotes Courtesy of CNET, USA TODAY, Forbes, The Telegraph, and Business Insider