3D printing has become a hot topic in recent years. Also known as additive printing, it refers to a unique manufacturing process in which materials are mechanically pieced together to create a three-dimensional object. 3D printing was once nothing more than a novel concept with no real practical use or application in the real world. But the times have changed, and now it’s being used in a wide range of industries and sectors.
According to Gartner, global shipments of 3D printers will reach 496,745 by the end of 2016. To put that number into perspective, just 244,533 units were shipped worldwide in 2015 — a 103% increase in just 12 months. Some experts have even cited 3D printing as being the catalyst for a third industrial revolution. Whether or not this statement is true remains to be seen. Regardless, there’s no denying the fact that more and more organizations are now using the technology to produce products.
While the technology behind 3D printing varies depending on the particular printer and its respective specifications, most consist of a few basic elements: the material or materials; the printer; and software. All three of these components are equally important in the function of a 3D printer. The material is used to form the object, while the printer pieces together the material, and the software allows the operator to input commands.
So, how are companies using 3D printing technology today? The footwear and apparel company New Balance recently made 44 pairs of a special limited edition shoe using 3D printing technology. The shoes are expected to go on sale this week with a retail price of $400.
Construction companies are also using 3D printers to facilitate their normal day-to-day operations. By sending a 3D printer and materials to the job site, construction companies can produce building components and other items needed for the job. It’s a cost-effective way to create certain objects, making it an attractive choice among construction companies and their crews.
There’s even some belief that 3D printers should be used to construct spaceships. Instead of building a spaceship on land and then launching it into orbit, governments and private space exploration companies could send 3D printers and the necessary materials into space, constructing them in zero-gravity. 3D printing is also used in fields such as medical, biotech, automotive, retail and more.