3D printing, or additive manufacturing, becoming more mainstream across many manufacturing sectors

Additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3D printing is growing in practicality and popularity. In some industries, it has risen to prominence as the indispensable short run and prototype manufacturing.


Edible 3D printing is being developed for NASA, for use during the planned Mars expedition. Fully edible pizza with flavor are the resulting product. As always with NASA developments, these enhancements to 3D printing may be coming to a vending machine near you.


3D printing sounds sexy — and it’s definitely brilliant — but not everyone understands exactly what this technology is, and does. With “additive printing”, a designer or manufacturer can create objects from 3D data — even edible ones. It usually does this by adding layer on layer of various materials — from plastics to metal to concrete. Even full-sized houses can be manufactured out of concrete with this technology.

17 incredible 3D printed applications including Astronaut food for the coming Mars expedition:


Disruptive Technology

3D printing, although no longer a new technology, is considered a disruptive one that has the potential to substantially change or enhance different processes of production. Since it’s capabilities are still evolving, the excitement for its potential has not dwindled.

Some recent new applications of this technology are:

  • NASA developing 3D printed food (even pizzas!) for the planned Mars Expedition
  • Medicine, especially with the new breakthroughs in BioPrinting (would you believe, “print a kidney?”)
  • Botanists printing a replacement “beak” for an injured bald eagle
  • Entire cars can now be 3D printed, especially valuable for prototyping
  • Entire houses can now be 3D printed in ONE pass (not as components) in 24 hours. See our earlier story on this>>


Prosthetic limbs are only one medical application of 3D printing. With the new development of biologic materials, printing a transplantable organ is conceivable in the future. Shown, prosthetic limbs for a dog being output right after measurement. Within hours, the dog can have new limbs.


The technology is groundbreaking for a number of reasons: it allows the production of solid objects from digital data, giving almost unlimited freedom of design. In addition to that, it also allows for the manufacturing of customized products without the high surplus usually associated with the manufacture of a one of a kind product.

Medicine and BioPrinting

Especially in medicine, 3D printing is proving to be a life-saver. It even has it’s own “sub” designation: “bioprinting.” It’s not considered impossible that 3D printing could be used to replicate a usable kidney or liver implants. Current uses in medicine are prosthetic limbs, dental implants and dentures and precisely shaped bone implants for things such as spinal surgery.


This bald eagle — shown hear after an injury from a poacher — had a successful “beak” replacement 3D printed and grafted, enabling it to be released to the wild.


“This is disruptive technology,” said Mike Renard, Organovo’s vice president of commercial operations at Organovo , a San Diego-based company that focuses on regenerative medicine. “It’s always interesting and fun, but never easy.” (More:15 Surprising Global Technology Cities)


The artificial beak for the bald eagle, successfully 3D printed. (See picture above of damaged beak.)


In the case of the Bald Eagle in our feature video, it was a literal life saver, as a Botanist was able to create an artificial replacement beak (necessary for survival).

Manufacturing: Flexibility and Speed for Short Runs

3D printed creations will continue to grow in popularity, especially for short run manufacturing, and prototyping, simply because the technology has virtually unlimited flexibility; it uses the additive method to output 3-dimensional components, ideal for short runs without need for molds. Importantly, with 3D printing, production can be done at any scale. A small model can be scaled up to a full size prototype. It also boasts of low cost and the short production time as compared to other modelling and prototyping methods.


Automotive frame being 3D printed. 3D printing is already used in prototyping, but here is used to actually create a working car.


3D printing technology has been widely accepted — becoming virtually mainstream — and different industries are already making use of it, such as: short run manufacturing, automotive, parts replication in remote areas, housing (architecture) and aerospace. 3D printing is used mainly for special purposes, short runs and prototypes, currently, but applications will widen as costs come down.

Remote Design and Manufacture: Even in Space

Remote design to manufacturing is another large potential application. For example, NASA can design a fix for a broken part on a spacecraft and transmit the design for printing onboard the vessel. Or, a designer in Europe can send the print request to an office in Canada with a printer, to provide a short run prototype for testing. Scanning to 3D print also makes repairs, such as component replacement in remote locations, easier. Rather than ship a small part, the remote location could “print” it’s own replacement parts.


The planned Mars mission from Nasa will rely partially on 3D printing for both food replication (very Star Trek!) and parts replication in the case of failures. The remoteness of the expedition makes this type of technology literally necessary.


The distribution and demand of customized goods can be integrated to quickly provide creative designs and solutions to customers. Customers will be able to fabricate creative products; this will finally make the integration of public demand with public ideas possible. All of these point inevitably to a revolution in both business and social production mode. Computer aided process planning is almost impossible with traditional manufacturing, hence, 3D printing is the best choice for distributed manufacturing.

Evolution of 3D: Not Without Flaws

Like most ground-breaking innovations, 3D printing is not without its flaws, the technology is constantly evolving. A successful implementation of a single manufacturing application can take months to customize. The output devices themselves an expensive investment, despite their versatility. They require sophisticated and knowledgeable technical operators.


Food output with 3D printers being tested for NASA.


Additive and traditional manufacturing processes can be combined, their combination could yield a number of results. Otherwise impossible manufacturing projects could become feasible withe the integration of 3D addative and traditional manufacturing.

Performance Alloys and Biological Materials

3D printing has inspired an entire sub-industry working on output materials. Notably, 3D printing has inspired the development of high performance alloys. As mentioned above, 3D printing also inspired biologic materials that can be used to replicate living material for medical use.


A working car, completely created with 3D printed components.


Materials with light weight and high strength can be synthesized. Inner structures in 3D outputted products can be designed with honeycomb structures to achieve lightweight combined with maximum strength and stiffness. By using 3D printing, high performance and efficiency can be achieved with any available minimal materials.

The promise of 3D printing has transformed into genuine real-world transformative manufacturing processes — disruptive technology that has unlimited potential.



Predicting the future of additive manufacturing: A Delphi study on economic and societal implications of 3D printing for 2030 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162517300276

Development Trends in Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095809916300492

From rapid prototyping to home fabrication: How 3D printing is changing business model innovation http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162515002425

Additive Manufacturing Will Change in the Next 5-10 Years https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2012/05/02/additive-manufacturing-will-change-in-the-next-5-10-years/

The Future of Additive Manufacturing http://www.geglobalresearch.com/innovation/future-additive-manufacturing

The evolution of additive manufacturing through 3D printing http://www.themanufacturer.com/articles/the-evolution-of-additive-manufacturing-through-3D-printing

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