Although 3D printing has technically been around since the 1980s, it wasn’t until the 2010s that the process started to gain widespread commercial use – and public recognition.
But although we can now 3D print cars, houses and even guns – and 3D printers are within the reach of domestic consumers – the technology is still in its fledgeling stages. But all that is set to change.
In 2019 alone, 3D printing startups leveraged more than a billion US dollars of investment capital, and 3D printing is becoming a part of the day-to-day running of a hugely diverse spectrum of businesses and sectors.
In fact, you will now find 3D printing in industries as diverse as automotive, aerospace, maritime, medical, sports, rail, defence and even 3d printing for construction. And its reach is growing – HP predicts it will replace traditional manufacturing in more and more instances over the next decade.
Does Moore’s Law apply to 3D printing tech?
Moore’s Law – that is to say the prediction of Intel founder Gordon Moore that computer processing power doubles roughly every two years – seems to have some sort of analogue in the 3D printing space.
3D printer tech seems to offer exponential growth in its market size, with expert observers predicting it will double approximately every three years.
The cloud and 3D printing are glove-in-hand technologies
Online manufacturing platforms, plus a huge diversity of 3D printing options and possibilities mean manufacturers can effectively produce components or entire products remotely.
This means there is less and less need for in-house manufacturing capacities, and companies have huge potential to increase the flexibility and scale of their manufacturing processes to suit consumer demand.
3D printing is just part of it
Additive manufacturing, as 3D printing is also known, is simply a link in a digital manufacturing chain. Companies able to link up 3D printing with CNC machines and low-volume injection moulding technologies will make manufacturing companies more agile than ever before.
Add in the move towards smart factories and fully digital supply chains, and big companies will be able to innovate more, and smaller companies will be able to leapfrog lower barriers to market entry.
Scientists could use soil to make 3D-printed buildings
Scientists in America have developed a way to use local soil to 3D-print eco-friendly buildings. They say that this technology could transform the construction sector, and actually replace the need for concrete.
The International Energy Agency states that concrete accounts for around 7% of carbon dioxide emissions.
However, this new 3d printing construction technology could be an alternative to concrete which is more sustainable. Sarbajit Banerjee is a professor of chemistry and materials science at the Texas A&M University, who has been working on the technology.
He said that 3D printing has allowed a versatility, which has enabled the team to print whole architectural facades. However, there are challenges in getting these structures to fulfil the requirements of building regulations which already exist.
Concrete is the main material used in most construction projects, but it has its faults. It requires a large amount of energy to transport and mix, and it also isn’t recyclable. This is why the research team aimed to print structures using common garden soil. Banerjee stated:
“While the widespread use of concrete has democratised access to housing and enabled the growth of cities, this has come at a considerable environmental cost.
The move to 3D-print concrete threatens to exacerbate this problem. However, we envision a new paradigm of construction that uses naturally sourced materials.
Using such materials will further pave the way for building designs that are specifically adapted to the needs of local climates, instead of cookie-cutter houses.”
By using local materials, there will be less need to move concrete over long distances, which further reduces the environmental impact that the buildings have.
The research team first need to improve the load-bearing capabilities of the soil, which they are making progress on. This is needed if the team ever want to replace concrete with soil.
Once they understand the 3d printing construction technology better and are aware of its limitations, the team aim to investigate if it could even be used in future space missions, such as using the surface of other planets for building on.