Three-dimensional (3D) printing, also called additive manufacturing, is the process of making three-dimensional solids from a digital model by depositing successive layers of material in different shapes. In the last few years, this technology has taken the world of trade and commerce by storm, most notably, retail, traditional manufacturing, automotive, aviation, finance, construction, and electronics. BCC Research estimated the total 2013 global market for 3D printing materials to be worth $245 million. This figure is expected to rise to $285 million in 2014 and $650 million in 2019, a CAGR of 17.9% over the next five years.
The rate of development and the increasing popularity of 3D printing is astounding; continuously pushing its limits to the extreme. Every day new breakthroughs are being achieved, and ideas which seemed impossible only a few short years ago are becoming commonplace. To an extent that NASA has decided to take this emerging technology beyond stratosphere: into space. With the size of a small microwave, the printer is only proof of concept that printing in zero gravity can create objects that are as accurate and as strong as those produced by a printer on Earth. The objective of this project is to create a machine shop for astronauts in space. Astronauts will no longer have to be dependent on next resupply mission on gravity well; they can create the needed parts right onboard!
The printer is scheduled to be lofted into low-Earth orbit on a SpaceX-4 space shuttle this September. If all goes well with this experiment, then NASA will move on to a more elaborate next-generation printer called the Additive Manufacturing Facility later this year.
One area which will need to advance before complex portable electronics are fabricated through additive manufacturing is that of battery manufacturing. Although, 3D printing of a battery is not a new concept, a 3D printed graphene-based battery could be a game changer for several industries. According to the Vancouver based company, Graphene 3D Lab Inc., batteries which are based on the super material known as graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms, could outperform even some of the best energy storage devices on the market today. The ability to 3D print a battery allows for custom shapes to be introduced into the world of electronics where companies are trying to cram as many components into the smallest space possible.
Scientists and researchers are now turning to a field where innovation saves lives. While printing of complete organs for transplants may be decades away, experts in Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, have developed highly-realistic 3D-printed body parts to allow trainee doctors to learn human anatomy without needing access to a real cadaver.
"Our 3D printed series can be produced quickly and easily, and unlike cadavers they won't deteriorate - so they are a cost-effective option too," said Paul McMenamin, Director of the University's Centre for Human Anatomy Education.
3D printing technology is being used to manufacture a wide array of items – from auto parts and prototypes to human skin and organs. In a world where mass-manufacturing takes place on scales never seen before, 3D printing is starting to spell big changes for the way the world thinks about production. This inevitably means new frontiers in global trade will be opened as well.
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