by David Drake
Have you found a technology that cuts across almost all sectors – transportation, education, pharmaceuticals, food, medicine, biotechnology, manufacturing, security and more? Surprisingly, two printing technologies – 3D and 4D – do intersect with different industries.
With 3D printing, you can manufacture a car, construct a house, make packaging materials, design and craft jewelries and objects, prepare educational materials, assemble a gallbladder or make a hearing aid, produce spare parts of a spacecraft and more. Add a time dimension and energy source to 3D printing, you have 4D printing.
It is estimated that by 2025, the 3D printing technology must have affected the global economy by as much as 230 to 600 billion dollars. Some of these industries are:
1. The Automobile Industry
The automobile industry was among the first industries to adapt 3D printing technology. The sector used 3D printing technology to produce automobile parts. The technology is still revolutionizing this sector and soon, we could start seeing entire cars or their bodies printed using 3D technology. This is the business model that Urbee, a nascent automobile company that seeks to develop the greenest car on the planet. Already, Stratsys, a leading stock in Credit Suisse in terms of investing in 3D printing technology, signed in as a digital printing sponsor for the Urbee startup company.
2. The Security Industry
3D printing technology is also disrupting the security industry. A company known as EOIR Technologies has already devised a system for mass producing camera gun sights for Bradley fighting vehicles and M1 Abrams tanks using 3D printing technology. This helped bring down manufacturing costs for the gear by about 60 percent according to Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). In 2013, the US Air Force initiated the process of pumping components of highly expensive and sensitive systems such as drones. This was done with the aim of using them during training exercises.
3. The Health Sector
3D printing is revolutionizing the medical world by making it possible to print every basic soft tissue organ in the body. Finger, ears even kidneys are being printed using 3D printing machines. The technology is also being used to print 90 percent of all hearing aids. According to Credit Suisse, a top investor in the technology, the 3D technology is increasingly being used to produce knee and hip replacements as well as dental equipment. 3D printer technology is proving to be invaluable in medical schools. Students still train on cadavers but when they have to undertake procedures that involve removing cancerous tumors, nothing comes close to real experience. Instead of printing healthy tissues, 3D technology is used to create defective organs or tumors for surgeons to practise on them before getting into the operating room.
3D printing technology also disrupted the manufacturing sector with its customization abilities, speed and lower cost. The technology makes it possible to print any kind of parts using a just-in-time model. 3D printing technology is likely to disrupt the supply chain as well as more companies that initially never saw themselves venturing into manufacturing, will begin making products. China will likely lose its edge in low cost manufacturing if companies in the US start using 3D printing because the technology will make it cheaper and faster to 3D print items locally. Retailers will start shipping raw materials as opposed to finished products and manufacture custom-made orders instead of selling their products off the shelf. Wal-Mart is exploring the possibility of acquiring a 3D printing firm as it considers using the technology to print replacement parts. Amazon has already expanded its 3D printing space in partnership with service bureaus and design companies.
3D printing technology goes beyond printing images on paper to generate objects in real 3D. The technology is capable of replicating CAD created images layer by layer. These capabilities are largely being used in education to teach subjects such as Biology, Graphics and Geography. In Biology, for instance, 3D printers may be used to replicate study samples such as a cross section of a human heart in great detail to aid learning. The technology allows for graphing of contours of varied landscapes. Importing contours and images into CAD program enables students to understand the terrain of a certain area during a Geography class. 3D printing technology has a wide application in education and may be used to print teaching aids for basically any subject.
These are just examples of how 3D printing technology has disrupted different sectors, many more exist. However, technological advancements are still on course and 4D printing technology is well on the way. 4D technology could make it possible to ‘edit the world’. It is an upgraded version of 3D printing, only that its designs continue evolving after manufacture. It creates opportunity for objects to adapt, change and respond to their surroundings. This sounds like it is really far-fetched but 4D will be a total disruption of how the world is running now.