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Printing The Future: What Additive Manufacturing Means For Innovation

March 12, 2018
Highly customized manufacturing, rapid modification and delivery of new products, and the ability to produce high-quality products at home, are some of the possibilities offered by 3D printing, a type of additive manufacturing.
It’s a sector that offers “a $76 billion opportunity” for GE said Kirk Rogers, a 3D printing technology leader for the company in a recent article. Some of GE’s advances in additive manufacturing today are profiled in this video. 

Rogers said target industries for 3D printing include oil and gas, medical, automotive, and aerospace. On the aviation front, French aircraft engine manufacturer, Safran, and GE, partnered to develop the CFM LEAP aircraft engine. This project represented the first time that a 3D printed part was manufactured and installed in a jet engine. The simplified jet nozzle produced was five times more durable, and 25% lighter, than conventionally manufactured parts.

This example, and others point to a bright future for additive manufacturing. The value of 3D printing technologies reached US$13.2 billion in 2016 – by 2023 it is projected to grow to US$32.78 billion.

Some history…

The knowledge and science behind additive manufacturing began in the 1980s, and the tech was being used to support organ replacement research and development by the turn of the millennium.

Awareness of 3D printing, and its applications however, has only become mainstream in the last 6-8 years. This upward trend will lead to many more 3D manufactured products being launched soon from personalised Lego figures, to planes with bionic wings. The technology is also expected to impact many parts of our daily lives such as…

How would you like your 3D printed steak cooked?


Star Trek fans are familiar with the ‘replicator’ machine that could magically create, and recycle objects, including food. While long-time “Trekkies” were wowed by the replicator, few expected it to become reality but 3D printing has made this concept real.

3D food printers are already in use today creating elegantly iced cakes or tantalising pasta meals. While the thought of mass-produced ‘printed’ food might repulse some, this technology is inspiring some delightfully innovative culinary experiences.

Advanced ‘food printing’ technologies could also help feed large populations. Basic food cartridges, and innovative ingredients can make food creation more sustainable, and local, to reduce the environmental impact of an industry that produces close to a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Ultra-customisable nutrition, and meals is another option in the 3D tech future – a future where consumers will be able to control their diets precisely.

 Next level personalized healthcare

As nutrition is closely linked to health, its seems natural and logical that 3D printing is also making an impact in healthcare.

Advances in ‘bioprinting,’ the creation of 3D objects using biological material, could lead to the creation of replacement organs that are manufactured from a patient’s own cells, tissues, and more, to potentially overcome organ rejection risks. The ability to produce 3D print replicas of a patient’s organs also presents significant opportunities for improved surgical outcomes.

3D printing could also spark a pharmaceutical revolution in conventional and personalised healthcare. Consider for example, a 3D printed pill tailored to treat all your unique ailments. In addition, bioprinting may help deliver affordable, accessible medicine to medically underserved communities around the world. There’s even the possibility of interplanetary healthcare solutions in the future.

Space the final frontier

Space may provide the most exciting frontier for 3D printing.

With the right materials, and plans, objects can now be printed at the point of need to reduce transport costs and time delays. This benefit matters a lot for the International Space Station (ISS), where shipping one bottle of water is estimated to cost US$43,000.

The huge cost of transporting goods is one reason why NASA is keen to explore 3D printing technology opportunities for the ISS. A ‘Refabricator’ for example, could support advanced recycling, and material re-use to improve sustainability. And thinking bigger, 3D printed space habitats could well hold the key to unlocking even more of our journey into the stars.