If you are a frequent reader of 3DPrint.com, then you are probably pretty excited about what this technology will eventually mean for society as a whole. While the phrase ‘Third Industrial Revolution’ is frequently used when describing 3D printing, I prefer something more like the ‘Holy Crap! That Can’t be Real’ Revolution. This is because every day when sifting through dozens of emails and leads for stories I think to myself (and sometimes even say it out loud if no one is around to possibly commit me), “Holy crap, that can’t be real.”
I’ve found that in the short time I’ve been covering the 3D printing industry the frequency of this phase popping into my head has been increasing. For instance, just these last few weeks we have seen two new 3D printers able to print at speeds which seem almost impossible, several planned animal studies on 3D printed body parts, and yet another 3D printed car. With all this happening there is plenty of speculation as to when things will really begin to get crazy.
“When?” That’s probably the most frequently used word when people approach me to talk about this incredible technology. It gets tiring, so I thought I would write a short article with my personal predictions (based on facts, interviews, and personal feelings) as to WHEN certain 3D printing milestones may occur.
When will I be able to buy a 3D printed car?
This Year! Local Motors is already 3D printing cars using a PLA/carbon fiber composite material. Speaking with Justin Fishkin, Chief Strategy Officer for Local Motors, a few weeks ago, I was told that several new microfactories will be set up in the coming years and the first 3D printed vehicles certified for highway use will become available to the general public sometime next year. Additionally vehicles able to reach 40 mph and drive around town will be available as soon as the end of this year.
Local Motors is really the only company that’s doing anything like this with any success. Yes we did recently do a story about a car in China that was 3D printed, but they basically just took the chassis of another vehicle and put a 3D printed shell on top. Local Motors is clearly well ahead of the competition, and although a 3D printed car may seem impractical, there are numerous benifits from safety to customization to affordability.
“Imagine walking into one of our stores, walking up to a screen, choosing one of 9 bodies, choosing one of 4 powertrains, like electric, natural gas, diesel, etc, choosing your tires and wheels, your color and pressing ‘Go’ — and having those sorts of ranges of choices, that’s what we are driving for,” Fishkin told 3DPrint.com.
It will be interesting to watch as many new customization options will slowly become available for these vehicles, which should cost somewhere between $18,000 and $30,000 each, as they begin rolling out by the end of this year.
What about 3D printed homes? When can I have my next house 3D printed?
By the year 2020. In fact, I had the pleasure of speaking to the inventor of Contour Crafting, Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, the other week. This technology utilizes a lightweight, large-scale, mobile 3D printer to construct homes using a variety of materials. Khoshnevis told us that he has quietly been making a tremendous amount of progress and that the printer is now able to print concrete exterior walls, insulation, and even drywall. The first machines will hit the market within just 2 years, he told us, and he expects widespread home construction via Contour Crafting within just 5 years. He is currently even working on ways to have the machine do finishing work such as paint and trim.
With an expected price of $200,000 or more, these machines will require a significant capital expenditure from construction companies; however, they would likely pay for themselves in a few years based on labor cost savings.
What about 3D printing structures on the Moon?
By the year 2025. There are actually a few initiatives in place regarding space printing. The most promising is a research partnership in place between Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis (mentioned above) and NASA to utilize Contour Crafting technology to print structures on the moon using the natural dust/soil found on its surface. Khoshnevis briefly touched on this research and his expectations in a recent interview with 3DPrint.com. He is somewhat optimistic that within the next 10 years we will have 3D printed large structures, perhaps bases, on the surface of the Moon.
“It is not impossible to see the technology being deployed on the Moon in ten years,” Khoshnevis told us.
When will we be 3D printing entire human organs?
By the year 2030. This is a tough one. Whereas we have fairly firm information to back up our other predictions, the time it will take for actual 3D printed human organs to be both created and approved by regulators is a bit up in the air. Organovo is currently leading the way in the field of bioprinting. They are already selling 3D printed liver tissue to pharmaceutical companies that use the samples for drug toxicity tests.
Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo, stated that his company will be able to 3D print partial organs within the next 4-6 years. These partial organs could be used to repair damaged organs, such as the liver, providing valuable time to patients as they await a full transplant. Others have predicted that a 3D printed human liver could be about 10 years away. Whether this estimation accounts for all the red tape required to actually implant such an organ into a human body it’s really anyone’s guess.
My personal thoughts on this, based on what I have seen in terms of progress in the field, and after speaking with Murphy and others within the space, is that we are likely 15 years away from an actual 3D printed liver, kidney, or heart being transplanted into a human. Substantial progress is being made, but unforeseen problem can always emerge. Researchers need to figure out a reliable way of producing the complicated vascular networks found within a human organ. Once this is done, progress should be rather rapid. Being a 33-year-old male, I feel rather confident that such technology will be available in my lifetime, and probably even my parents’ lifetime. We will have to check back in 2030 to see how accurate this prediction is, however.
What do you guys think? Do these estimates seem about right to you? Let’s hear your thoughts in the 3D Printing Predictions forum thread on 3DPB.com.