Where is All This 3D Printing Research Coming From?

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3D printing is a field ripe for research and exploration. Studies have been done on all things related to the technology, from 3D printed food to bioprinting and everything in between. There is an overwhelming number of studies out there, but where are they all coming from? A new study entitled “3D printing new direction and collaboration in scientific research. A scientometric study using Web of Science, Clarivate Analytics database” is a study of studies, looking at where 3D printing studies are largely coming from, and who is conducting them.

The researchers used scientometrics, or the study of measuring and analyzing science, technology and innovation.

“Defined as developing ‘the quantitative methods of the research on the development of science as an informational process’, scientometrics include practices of measuring research quality and impact, understanding the process of scientific citations, mapping scientific fields and the use of indicators in research policy and management contexts,” the researchers explain. “As scientometrics can study many aspects of the dynamics of science and technology, the researches introduced tools and applications for science mapping and visualization of bibliometric networks, concepts, current state of the field and future research direction.”

They collected their data from the Web of Science database, looking at a period of 35 years, which is about how long 3D printing has been around. 11,529 bibliographic records were obtained and analyzed using VOS Viewer, a software tool for constructing and visualizing bibliographic networks.

“These networks may for instance include journals, researchers, or individual publications, and they can be constructed based on citation, bibliographic coupling, co-citation, or co-authorship relations,” the researchers add. “VOS Viewer also offers text mining functionality that can be used to construct and visualize co-occurrence networks of important terms extracted from a body of scientific literature.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of studies being conducted on 3D printing has increased progressively each year. The highest number of publications was in 2017, followed by 2016, 2015, and 2014 respectively. The lowest number of publications was one, from 1983, and consisted of the very first study on 3D printing: a paper entitled “3D – Profile Detection of Etched Patterns Using a Laser Scanner (3D – Scan Detection) for
Automatic Inspection of Printed-Circuit Boards.” If you’ve ever tried wading through the mass of studies surrounding 3D printing and wondered where it all began, there you have it.

Not only is the number of studies growing each year, it’s growing significantly. The number of studies doubled -and then some – for the first time in 2014, to 1,083 from 2013’s 483. Two years later, the number doubled once again, going from 1,860 in 2015 to 3,016 in 2016.

The United States was shown to be the world leader in the publication of 3D printing studies. However, the academic institution with the highest scientific impact is Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The most productive author in the field so far is C.K. Chua. The highest scientific impact came from a 2010 paper entitled “Additive Manufacturing Technologies: Rapid Prototyping to Direct Digital Manufacturing.”

The major source of publication in 3D printing comes from conference proceedings papers. You can see the conference proceedings with the highest scientific impact below:

In terms of bioprinting papers, the United States was the leader again, followed by China and Germany.

“It is proven that academic productivity is a function of multidimensional combination of the academic researcher’s work: the scientific work, education and external relationships,” the researchers conclude. “Science mapping is a spatial representation of how disciplines, fields, specialties, documents and authors are related to each other. By using scientometrics, researchers can identify new and relevant challenges in their field of research.”

Authors of the paper include Raluca Marinescu and Anişor Nedelcu.

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