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3D printing is a field of research unto itself, as applications, materials, and machines provide fertile ground for in-depth and fascinating study. How much research is really out there, though? To answer this question, B.M. Gupta and S.M. Dhawan from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have put together a study of the volume of 3D printing research that has been conducted from 2007 to 2016. The study investigates not only the amount of research that was conducted, but the type, topics, and geographical origin of the scientific papers that have been published. You can access the study, entitled “Three Dimensional (3D) Printing: A Scientometric Assessment of Global Publications Output during 2007-16,” here.

“3D printing research registered 54.61 per cent growth per annum and averaged 10.59 citations per papers in 10 years, and bulk of global output (93.79 %) in the field emanates from just top 16 countries,” the researchers state. “The papers further provides an insight into qualitative performance of 3D printing research in terms of relative citation index, citations per papers, highly cited papers, top 25 global organisations and authors in the field, most favoured subjects in the field, and most favoured materials, technologies, and applications used in the field. The study concludes that 3D printing is the next revolution in industrial manufacturing led by USA and China. Asian and Pacific countries should take initiatives to support 3D printing research through appropriate policy and funding mechanisms as well as encourage research teams to collaborate with leading international hubs in 3D printing research.”

The study was conducted through the Scopus database using keywords such as “3D printing” and “Three Dimensional Printing.” The search was refined by country to identify the top 16 countries in terms of research publication output. The United States is in the lead with 32.03% global publications share, followed by China which holds 13.85% publication share. Following the two leaders were the UK, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Italy, France and Taiwan. Notably, the vast bulk of research came from only a few countries, although overall research was widespread.

“3D printing research has been found to have spread to as many as 90 countries, of which 43 countries published 1-10 papers, 23 country 11-50 papers, 8 country 51-100 papers, 13 country 101-500 papers and 3 country 501-2200 papers,” the researchers state. “However bulk of research output (93.79 %) in the field still comes from just 16 most productive countries.”

In terms of subject distribution, engineering is the most popular topic for 3D printing research, followed by materials science, computer science, medicine, physics and astronomy, biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology, and chemical engineering. Medical research, however, accounted for the highest number of publications. Unsurprisingly, FDM was found to be the most commonly used 3D printing method according to research publications, and plastic the most commonly used material.

About 2803 organizations participated in 3D printing research between 2007 and 2016. 12 organizations registered more publications than the group average. Likewise, about 3644 authors were involved in 3D printing research during the time period studied, with the top 25 noted in the report. Other factors studied included number of citations, which averaged 192.95 per paper.

Perhaps the most striking observation to come out of the report is the high concentration of research in certain areas of the world. Five countries account for two thirds of all 3D printing research conducted globally: the US, China, the UK, Germany and Japan.

“In order that Asian and Pacific countries including South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan and India are able to become more competitive and perform better in future, stakeholders across such nations should support 3D printing research through appropriate policy and funding mechanisms as well as encourage research teams to collaborate with leading international hubs in 3D printing research,” the researchers point out. “India in particular should take initiative to come up with a national action plan for advancement of 3D printing in the country. At present its global publications share is just 1.61 per cent.”

And just who are the most productive researchers? And where do they hail from?

  1. C.K. Chua Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  2. Cho Pohang University of Science & Technology, South Korea
  3. M.M. Tentzeris Georgia Institute of Technology,
  4. W.Y. Yeong Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  5. C.B. Williams Virginia Tech,
  6. R.B. Wicker University of Texas at El Paso,
  7. J.A. Lewis Harvard University
  8. Li Xian Jiatong University, China
  9. Khademhosseini Brigham & Women’s Medical Hospital,
  10. Lipson Cornell University, USA

You can read the full study here.

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