Forbes magazine recently commented that even as the over-hyped consumer 3D printing market continues to fall back down to earth, 2016 looks to be a breakout year for the industry as a whole. According to the “Worldwide 3D Printing Trends Report”, Toronto is in the top 9. Here are three 3D printing trends to watch in 2016.
Consumer 3D Printing
Even though MakerBot has been working to develop more partnerships to sell its 3D printers through such retail outlets as Staples, Sam’s Club, and Home Depot, the response may not have been as successful as first thought. Fortune magazine reported in December 2015 that big 3D manufacturers plan a major retreat with 3D Systems discontinuing its desktop 3D printer, effectively exiting the consumer 3D printing market. Fortune magazine commented that “The retrenchment by 3D Systems comes amid a broader realization that consumer 3D printing is not a lucrative market.” Research firm Gartner has concluded that widespread consumer adoption of 3D printing is still five years away.
Pushing The Limits Of 3D Technology
As reported by BBC News recently, doctors are now employing 3D printing to print 'living' body parts, which promises to be a significant advance for regenerative medicine. The idea of placing individual human cells in a precise pattern to replace a damaged jaw, missing ear or scarred heart muscle holds much promise. But the field has been limited by the huge challenge of keeping the cells alive – as they become starved of oxygen and nutrients in tissues thicker than 0.2 millimetres. The team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre have developed a new 3D technique where a tissue is riddled with micro-channels, rather like a sponge, to allow nutrients to penetrate the tissue. When the structures were implanted into animals, the plastic broke down as it was replaced by a natural, structural "matrix" of proteins produced by the cells. Meanwhile, blood vessels and nerves grew into the implants. Prof Martin Birchall, a surgeon at a London University told the BBC, "The prospect of printing human tissues and organs for implantation has been a real one for some time, but I confess I did not expect to see such rapid progress.” But he concluded, “I think it will be less than a decade before surgeons like me are trialling customised printed organs and tissues."
Virtual Inventory Becomes Real for Aerospace
NASA is exploring 3D printing with an eye to on-demand spare parts, and engine designs that don't need to withstand liftoff. NASA increasingly views 3D printing as a key tool for advancing space exploration. A start up company funded by NASA to create a zero-gravity 3D printer already has a prototype device on board the International Space Station. In theory, when astronauts need a spare part or a replacement, they'll be able to print their own instead of requisitioning NASA and then waiting for the next shuttle. NASA announced in December that engineers had successfully printed and tested 75 percent of the parts required for a rocket engine, including valves, turbo pumps and injectors. The resulting pieces do not look like traditional engine parts, but they work just as well. Everything that NASA sends to the ISS costs thousands of dollars per ounce to ship – so this 3D technology can’t come soon enough.
How 3D printing is shaking up high end dining
As reported by BBC News, Paco Perez is a pioneer in food assembly and preparation. Paco uses a 3D food printer called Foodini, which looks a little like a microwave oven. The food is real food, made from fresh ingredients prepared before printing. The beauty of this unit is that it manages to speed up the difficult and time-consuming parts of food preparation. Paco is pushing the boundaries of gastronomy ever further with this 3D printer to create elaborate designs within his unique dishes. The Foodini can print with a very wide range of foods, from mashed potato to chocolate. Ingredients are placed in stainless steel capsules, which are also reusable. With suitable ingredients the machine is capable of printing structures several centimetres high, making possible some quite elaborate 3D designs. Mateo Blanch from La Boscana in Spain has also been working with a 3D printer, By Flow. He told the International Business Times last year that, "it has changed the way I work with food…. I am capable of a level of precision that would never have been possible before." Many other chefs other than Paco and Mateo are experimenting with this new technique and it seems to be a growing market. Experts foresee a growing consumer market for 3D food printers. I’ll have to look up his restaurant on my next visit to Barcelona.