This is a guest contribution by Vasilii Kiselev, Founder, and CEO at Top3DGroup
The future is here: a 3D printer is no longer just a fantasy of pop-science fans but a reality of the retail and industrial world. How will additive technologies change the world?
If one needs a t-shirt, they go to the marketplaces or shops to find one, wasting entire evenings to get the perfect balance of color, fit, material, and size among the portfolios of tens of companies. But in the near future, if someone needs a t-shirt, they will not have to leave their house. Some websites will provide a configurator, where one would select the preferences, load their parameters and get the clothes in a short amount of time. A fully custom-made one. That’s how additive technologies work and no one needs to wait for the near future to come to use them today. The technologies are penetrating into various fields: the food industry, fashion, and even the medical sector. This is a non-obvious industrial revolution that is currently happening.
Additive Technologies Speed up and Democratize Production
The most obvious example of how additive technologies evolve is the 3D printers for home use. Just a decade ago, there was only one way to get a plastic plate: going through a long chain of shops, contractors, and middlemen to get one from a factory that produces plastic tableware. These days it can be done with a 3D printer, which is a versatile machine suitable for home use. Unlike the machines of the past, a 3D printer doesn’t have to be narrow-specialized: almost anything can be printed, from a Christmas toy to weapons, provided there are certain limits. 3D models can be downloaded from anywhere.
During the initial outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, it quickly became obvious that Italian clinics lack ventilators, and the factory specialized in manufacturing the valves for such ventilators doesn’t cope with the workloads, the volunteers from Isinnova started 3D printing the valves. No production lines were required, as well as no shipping. When the design was finalized, it took just a day to start the production.
In March 2020, 3D printer manufacturer Carbon produced a bunch of experimental protective screens for healthcare workers and sent them to Stanford Healthcare Center. A few weeks later, the CEO of Carbon said that a 3D model of the protective screen will be openly accessed for everybody.
The next thing was 3D printed swabs for biomaterials, which were also lacking. CadCrown launched a project to develop and manufacture products that can slow down the pandemic. For example, contactless door handles and water taps. The development is open and free — the projects are available online, while the users can download and 3D print the products. Another 3D printer manufacturer Prusa has a similar project, but it covers interactive toys and learning objects. The developers share the lists of tested models and parts of medical devices on GitHub.
Additive Technologies are Integrating into Serious Industrial Fields
These technologies speed up production. There’s no need to hire workers to produce some things since the production can be done on several 3D printers, while development can be ordered online from the engineers that live anywhere in the world. The factories of the future will not need design agencies (and the engineers will not require offices) or technical control departments (both exact parameters and printer settings can be downloaded online). The workers are not needed either: a large 3D farm consisting of 200 or 300 printers can work automatically for several days with little human input.
3D printing of launch vehicle fuel tank in Relativity Space
And additive technologies are no longer only about volunteer projects and plastic. There are metal 3D printers but those are still too expensive for enthusiasts but the larger companies can easily afford them. Complex constructions and parts can be fully 3D printed instead of being outsourced and assembled afterward. It’s very different from how these things were done before (for example, nowadays passenger aircraft parts are manufactured in several factories from all around the world and are assembled afterward, which is a complex logistical task). Additive technologies become a part of serious important industries. British startup Orbex recently showed a 3D printed 55-feet (17 meters) tall stage of a launch vehicle named Prime Rocket. Another aerospace startup named Relativity Space signed a contract to launch their 3D printed rocket with the U.S Air Force (their engine consists of 100 parts, it’s around 10 less than a regular rocket engine has). The leaders of the aerospace industry, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been using 3D printing for a long time. For example, additive technologies will play a role in Mars colonization.
An automated 3D printers farm
Credit: Brian Benchoff
It’s impossible to predict how exactly additive technologies will change the world
The X electrical vehicle (XEV).
A good example is an automotive industry that constantly needs spare parts. They need to be stored and delivered in some way (often from another part of the world), while the demand is constantly changing. 3D printing eliminates this problem: the 3D model of a required part will be stored online, the part can be printed when needed while also being modified to meet the requirements of a client. The LSEV electric car by an Italian company XEV will be released later in 2021: the cabin, seats, body panels, and even windscreen are 3D printed.
The fashion industry is another example: recently, many larger brands experimented with 3D printed sneakers, accessories, and clothes. Architecture is another industry that works with additive technologies: several companies are experimenting with how the homes of the future would look: not the ones produced in factories, but 3D printed on-site.
X ELECTRICAL VEHICLE (XEV) / ФОТО: x-ev.net
It’s impossible to predict how additive technologies will change the world. But it’s already obvious that the changes will be significant. Modern production lines will cease to exist. The trade routes will change, as well as political and economical balance. The markets will look different and it’s not yet clear what kind of markets they will be. Moreover, the ability to create something new out of regular materials will be a part of regular human life. How it will look like — no one yet knows but it’s impressive to see how this new reality is being born.
By the way, the experts of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory are planning to 3D print a nuclear reactor by 2023. Maybe it will be something that is possible for regular people in the future.