3D Printing is the New Black

There has been a lot of discussion around 3D Printing this year as it evolves from a prototyping tool to a manufacturing solution and expands its presence into new industries.

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, is the process of creating a three-dimensional solid object from a digital design.  The digital model is sliced into many layers (layers are thinly sliced, horizontal cross-sections of the future object) and descriptions of the slices are sent to the 3D printer to create the respective layers exactly to specification.  The layers are then combined in a number of ways to create a 3D object.

Main 3D Printer Technologies

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is the process of creating three-dimensional objects by fusing small particles of plastic, metal, ceramic, or glass powders using a laser.  The laser scans the cross-sections of the object generated from a CAD file or scan data and traces it onto the bed of powder.  The laser then heats the powder, transforming it into solid form.  After completion of each layer, the powder bed is lowered, a new layer of material is applied on top, and the process is repeated until the object has been printed.  The idea is similar to layering a cake! (Video example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbtu3wBJ-pY)

Stereolithography is the process of converting liquid plastic into a solid object using a stereolithograph apparatus machine (SLA).  There are four parts to the SLA: a tank filled with liquid photopolymer or liquid plastic, an adjustable platform, an ultraviolet laser and a computer that controls the laser and platform.  Similar to other processes, a digital model is sliced into many layers to be read by the 3D printer.  The UV laser paints one of the layers onto a thin layer of liquid photopolymer above the platform.  The liquid hardens upon contact with the UV laser, forming a layer of the future object.  The process repeats, building a new layer on top of the existing ones, until the object is formed. (Video example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygHVVKkJWlI)

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the heating of thermoplastic material to a semi-liquid state and then extruding it onto a platform based on the design specifications.  The models is drawn line by line and after a layer is drawn, the platform lowers to allow the printer to start a new layer above the existing ones. The idea is similar to a hot glue gun.  (Video example: http://vimeo.com/14292165)

In choosing one of the above technologies, the following factors are considered: speed of machine, cost of 3D printer, cost of printed object, and cost and choice of materials and color capabilities.

The Future with 3D Printing


An artist’s rendering of the 3D printed lunar base (Credits: ESA/Foster+Partners).

The 3D printing market was just $1.7 billion in 2011 but is expected to reach $3.1 billion worldwide by 2016 and $5.2 billion by 2020.  According to Lux Research, the 3D printed part market had a $777 million base in 2012.  3D printed prototype parts in aerospace totaled $315 million and automotive applications amounted to $428 million.  The two major players in the market are 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) and Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS).

3D Printing is growing fast, expanding from corporations to small businesses to consumers and being used across a range of industries, including healthcare, aerospace and fashion.  As 3D printing costs decrease (we can expect price attrition as more suppliers for both 3D printers and materials suppliers enter the market) and the speed and accuracy of the technology improves, 3D printing will become more common or even dominant in supply chains.  A supply chain with 3D printing will involve customized production, more local distribution centers (printed at a local site) and low transportation costs, ultimately significantly reducing lead times and reducing the carrying cost of inventory.  Such a disruption in manufacturing would bring home many offshore productions and allow companies to vertically integrate.  Additionally, with lower production costs, consumer surplus would increase because of a more competitive market, in which high quality products would be standardized and premium players in the industry would be forced to price their products to the smaller players.

One of the more exciting applications of 3D printing is printing 3D organs.  Already, scientists have been able to create 3D-printed bionic ears, bioplastic windpipes and 3D-printed kidneys and livers.  Currently, scientists are able to scan and create a digital model of your body part, develop a mold of the body part and use a bio-printer to layer living cells into the mold.  The future in printing replacement organs will involve more sophisticated printers that are able to capture more detail, print with more accuracy, and create replacement organs on a routine basis.  I am optimistic that some day we will be able to supply the thousands of requests for a replacement organ.

The fashion world has been quick to embrace 3D printing as well.  This past year, Malaysia hosted the first Asia 3D Print fashion show themed “Birds”.  The runway was dominated with bird-influenced 3D printed accessories and apparel.  It won’t be long until Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio are seen wearing 3D printed angel wings at future Victoria’s Secret fashion shows.  The process of creating a final product from a fashion design will be made flawless with technology’s ability to capture the finite details of a sketch and produce it to the exact specifications.  Additionally, apparel can be body conforming with 3D printers getting closer to producing fabric-like materials.  Maybe the future for Zappos and other online retailers is to allow us to scan our feet or bodies using a webcam and deliver a customized shoe or dress to our door, eliminating the fear of missized footwear and apparel when purchasing online.

3D printing has the potential to produce the complex tools and products demanded across all industries.  I believe it will be some time before we are able to print our own bicycles or furniture at home as the cost of 3D printing materials still outweigh the total cost of purchasing manufactured goods, but I do believe that changes in manufacturing processes and the availability of printed goods for sale or for use in various industries will be more immediate.  Already, we are able to upload our own 3D file onto a website and have it printed and delivered to us.  You can also start your own online 3D store that sells your 3D creations.  3D printing encourages us to be innovative as it provides us with the ease of transforming our complex ideas into tangible products.

The Concerns with 3D Printing

Legal issues are bound to arise in response to the types of products being produced (e.g. firearms and drugs), an emerging new wave of piracy/growing black market and the ethics of printing replacement organs.  Copyright laws will need to be evaluated to ensure that the protection of 3D designs and objects are encompassed in the laws.  But how will ideas related to 3D designs and processes be protected?  According to the U.S. Copyright Act: “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”  Although 3D printing offers a promising future, there are many questions that need to be answered before expanding its application.

My Top 3D Printing Companies!

Protos Eyewear (https://crowdfunding.protoseyewear.com/3d-printed-eyewear-tailored-to-fit-you) creates custom fit 3D printed eyewear.  In the future, customers will be able to scan an image of their face using a webcam and submit the image to receive a pair of customized frames (with or without prescription).  Early bird custom fit frames and lenses were selling at $199.  The company is currently in the funding process.

Protos Eyewear

Continuum (http://continuumfashion.com/N12.php) allows its customers to design their own apparel online and manufactures personalized garments for them using its 3-D printers.  Customers are able to create their own fashion designs using CONSTRVT, an online destination for individuals to create their own 3D fashion designs.

Continuum Dress

Organovo (http://www.organovo.com/) designs and creates functional human tissues using its proprietary three-dimensional bioprinting technology.  The company created the first 3D printed miniature liver this past year.

TeVido (http://tevidobiodevices.com/) is an early-stage life sciences/biotech company using 3D bio-printing of live cells to build custom implants and grafts for breast cancer reconstruction.  TeVido is developing a 3-D printing process that could fabricate breast tissue to be used in breast reconstruction after a lumpectomy using a women’s own fat cells, as a potential alternative to months of filling the void left by a lumpectomy with a series of fat injections that can be further slowed by reabsorption into the body; or just doing, which can leave breasts disfigured and asymmetrical.

Shapeways (http://www.shapeways.com/) allows individuals to make, buy and sell their own products, creating a platform for online boutiques specialized in 3D printed products.  See how it works: http://www.shapeways.com/about/how_does_it_work


Sculpteo (http://www.youtube.com/user/Sculpteo) offers an online 3D printing service to both individuals and professionals.  It also offers color 3D printing and a range of materials to choose from.

Formlabs (http://formlabs.com/products/our-printer)  spun off from the MIT Media Lab in 2011 to develop a high quality, low cost 3D printer.  The Form 1 3D printer uses stereolithography to make precise models and other physical objects out of photoreactive liquid polymer.  The Form 1 3D printer started as a Kickstarter project and received six times its $100,000 goal in just one day, topping $1.4 million in one week.  The company has recently announced that it will begin shipping its printers.

form 1

Makerbot (http://www.makerbot.com/) is a global leader in desktop 3D printing.  In 2011, MakerBot had 21.6% market share of all 3D printers.  Makerbot was recently acquired by Stratasys in a $604 million deal.


3D Printing Milestones in 2013:

January: 3D Systems announces acquisition of Geomagic, Inc. for $55 million in cash.  Geomagic is a software development company focused on 3D software and technology for design and engineering. The company was founded in 1997 by Ping Fu and Herbert Edelsbrunner (Read: Ping Fu’s Bend, Not Break)

February: President Obama supports 3D printing in State of the Union address.  “[3D printing] has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.”

March: Architect Francis Bitonti and fashion designer Michael Schmidt designed a 3D-printed dress for Dita Von Teese.  The dress is made from 17 different pieces and 3000 joints and is finished with 12,000 hand-placed Swarovski crystals.

Dita Von Teese shows off her 3D printed dress, by Bitonti and Schmidt.

April: Organovo 3D print tiny replicas of human livers that perform most functions of a real liver.

May: Princeton scientists developed a 3D-printed Bionic Ear and Staples announced it became the first major retailer to sell personal 3D printers (The Cube made by 3D Systems).

3D Printed Organs

June: Stratasys acquires Makerbot for $403 million to enter the consumer 3-D printing space and Makerbot partners with Microsoft.  Windows 8.1 will include 3D printer support and MakerBot 3D printers will sell in Microsoft Store retail locations.

July: Malaysian fashion designer Melinda Looi and Belgian 3D printing studio Materialise launched Asia’s first 3D printed fashion show.  The theme of the show was “Birds”.

First 3D Printed Fashion Show in Asia

August: NASA announced to launch the 3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment next year, in which a 3D printer will be sent to space to build parts on-demand in space.  NASA aims to solve the difficulty in resupplying or providing materials in space.

More to come!

Comment below or tweet me @tiffanydstone on your thoughts on 3D Printing and what you believe the future of it will look like!

Sources: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/stereolith2.htmhttp://www.livescience.com/38190-stereolithography.htmlhttp://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelhennessey/2013/08/07/3-d-printed-clothes-could-be-the-next-big-thing-to-hit-fashion/?utm_campaign=techtwittersf&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialhttp://3dprintingindustry.com/2013/08/14/3d-printed-dress-of-pia-hinze-features-in-muuse-x-vogue-awards/http://www.economist.com/node/18114221http://www.cleveland.com/healthfit/index.ssf/2013/07/3-d_printers_are_creating_ears.htmlhttp://www.luxresearchinc.com/blog/2013/06/the-3d-printed-part-market-will-grow-to-8-4-billion-in-2025-but-materials-suppliers-need-to-see-the-small-print/http://www.bionews-tx.com/news/2013/06/12/texas-biotech-startup-tevido-biodevices-developing-3-d-printing-technology-for-breast-reconstruction/

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