The amount of innovation we have seen within the 3D printing industry in the last three years has outdone all the innovation within the industry in the prior 20 years. This can be seen by the total number of patents filed over the last 30 years within the industry. As prices come down, thousands of people are driven to the technology, and more innovators enter the market, driving prices down even further, while driving innovation up. The next five years will likely see progress along an exponential curve continue. Here are five 3D printing predictions that are bound to occur over the next five years.
Several Major, Not Obvious, Corporations Enter the Market
We all know that the Hewlett Packards, and Epsons of the world are certain to enter the 3D printer market, but there will likely be a few surprises as well. Don’t be surprised to see a Google, Microsoft, or even Apple, enter the industry. If growth within the consumer based 3d printer market continues, Apple may figure out a way to create a cheap, intuitive, reliable printer that the majority of people would want in their homes. Microsoft or Google could enter the industry from an information standpoint. There is already Thingiverse, owned by Stratasys, which offers countless 3d models that people can download and print out from home, but Google or Microsoft could build upon that model even further. Amazon, on the other hand, could acquire or begin competing with companies like Shapeways, which 3D print objects, then mail them to customer’s doorsteps. Within the next year I think we will see a major acquisition within the industry, and within 5 we will see several new faces emerge.
A Functioning Human Organ Is Printed
Organovo claims that they will have a 3D printed liver sometime this year. That claim may not exactly be a fully functioning human liver like many people initially thought, however, we are only a few years away from such an accomplishment. Researchers are already printing out dozens of different biological cells. Once a method of printing vascular networks within these organs can be perfected, the amount of innovation within the field will be explosive. The field of medicine will look entirely different by 2019.
Metal Laser Sintering Printers Drop in Price Substantially
Just like we have seen prices of resin and FDM 3D printers drop in price from the tens of thousands of dollars, to under $500, the same will happen with higher quality, metal based, laser sintering machines. As patents continue to expire, this year and next, we will see a similar innovative explosion that we had within the plastic printing market. Crowdfunding projects, as well as new and old companies coming about with higher quality metal printing, will drive the entire market forward substantially. At this point, it become obvious that owning a 3D printer for the home makes sense…. and cents.
A 3D Printed Gun has Been Used in a Major Crime
It’s bound to happen. We have already seen several 3D printed guns emerge on the scene in the last year and a half. Having said this, the plastics being used have a difficulty in standing up to the energy that guns emit. Metal based printing will change all of this. It will be extremely difficult to regulate who has access to these new high quality printers, and what files they download off the internet. There will come a time when a 3D printed gun is used in a major crime, and at that point, you will know we have entered into a future which will need new, comprehensive laws, but ones which do not stifle the innovative power of 3D printing.
Every School in America Has a 3D Printer / 40% of Households
We are already seeing major adoption rates of 3D printers within the field of education. Makerbot has been heading an initiative to get their 3D printers into every school in the country, and in the early going it appears to be a slow success. As printer prices come down, and applications for learning are realized, 3D printers will become a major part of nearly every curriculum from grades 3 to 12. Just like the PC in the 80’s and 90’s, 3D printers will first work their way into every school, and then quickly into every classroom. For a student to be able to make something in their mind into a physical object, is a very powerful tool for creativity and learning.
Within the next four to five years 3D printers will begin appealing to every day people, but first we must seen more intuitive interfaces, as well as further development of software, materials, and hardware. Head over to 3D Print Board to discuss the future of 3D printing.