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3D printing: Application field expansion consumer demand explosion

1, industrial applications continue to expand, personal consumption demand began to break out

3D printing has obvious advantages in terms of manufacturing freedom and raw material utilization, especially for small-batch and customized processing and manufacturing. In recent years, 3D printing has made great progress in both industrial applications and personal consumption markets: the downstream industries of industrial applications continue to expand, and the proportion of direct parts manufacturing has also increased year by year; Although the personal consumption market started late, it has shown a rapid outbreak trend in recent years.

According to statistics, the industry application of 3D printing technology is mainly distributed in consumer electronics, automotive, medical, aerospace, construction, scientific research and other fields; From the specific application point of view, 3D printing technology is currently mainly used for the manufacture of design samples, display models and molds, but the proportion of direct parts processing has risen rapidly from less than 4% in 2003 to about 29% in 2013.

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2, the customized needs of medical devices is exactly the advantage of 3D printing, “bioprinting” is promising

The medical industry has a large number of customization needs, it is difficult to standardize, mass production, and this is exactly the advantage of 3D printing technology. At present, 3D printing technology has been successfully applied and has been relatively mature in the fields of hearing aid manufacturing, dental orthodontics and restoration, and prosthetic limb manufacturing. Products such as dental Bridges made by 3D printing are more precise and more convenient than traditional manufacturing methods. Similarly, the use of 3D printing technology can be a good copy of the rest of the limb, the prosthetic limb is also more ergonomic, in Europe the use of 3D printed titanium alloy bone patients have more than 30,000 cases, and a hospital in the United States even replaced up to 75% of the damaged bones of patients with 3D printed skulls.

In addition to the above areas of medical repair, 3D printing technology can also be used to understand patients’ conditions and assist doctor-patient communication. For example, the 3D printer can print out the stereoscopic bone model of the patient, and the doctor can discuss the treatment process and communicate with the patient about the surgical plan through the bone model. Medical staff can also learn about the internal structure of the patient’s organs through 3D printed replicas, and can also perform simulated surgeries on these replicas. Currently, Stratasys and 3DSystems are able to provide equipment to replicate human organ models, using medical images such as CT scans to directly print models of patient organs that are not only realistic in appearance, but also wet and textured like organs.

3D printed models or inanimate prosthetics are just the beginning, the most promising applications are directly printing living tissues and organs, so-called “bioprinting”. Existing ideas include: using 3D printing of skeletons, then growing stem cells on the skeleton and coaxing them to form tissue; A further approach is to print tissue and organs directly for transplantation; The most imaginative solution is to print living tissue or organs directly inside the body, without even having to implant them.

Organovo has already made some breakthroughs in bioprinting, printing heart muscle tissue, lungs, blood vessels and more. Biologist Batcher of Cornell University in the United States uses biomolecular materials to print a normal working heart valve, in which stem cells are included in the polymer material, which can gradually convert adult cells. At present, “bioprinting” is still in the experimental stage, and the obstacles to its application are not only in the technical field, but also involve ethical issues, regulatory procedures and other aspects. However, with the development of biotechnology and the improvement of supporting systems, 3D printed human organs will gradually enter practical applications.

3, aerospace is one of the most promising application areas of 3D printing, and China’s titanium alloy laser rapid prototyping technology is the world’s leading

Aerospace equipment manufacturing is one of the most promising application areas of 3D printing, the main reasons are: first, aerospace equipment often has the characteristics of “multi-variety, small batch”, especially in the trial production stage, many parts need to be customized, if the traditional process is long cycle, high cost, 3D printing can achieve low-cost rapid prototyping; Second, due to weight reduction and strength requirements, the proportion of complex structural parts or large heterogeneous parts in aerospace equipment is getting higher and higher, if the traditional “forging + machining” method is used, the required processes are numerous, the process is complex, and even can not be directly processed, and 3D printing has obvious advantages in the processing of complex parts; Third, the utilization rate of raw materials for aircraft parts processed by traditional processes is only about 10%, and other parts are wasted in the process of casting, forging, cutting and polishing, while the incremental manufacturing method of 3D printing can increase the utilization rate of raw materials to more than 90%.

Boeing is the first international aerospace manufacturer to use 3D printing technology for aircraft design and manufacturing, and has cumulatively produced more than 300 different small parts using 3D printing technology. GE Aviation bought MorrisTechnologies, which develops laser-sintered metal powder technology, in 2012 to make components for its Leap family of engines. Pratt & Whitney has also invested millions in an incremental manufacturing center with the University of Connecticut. NASA is using 3D printers to produce engine parts for spacecraft, and plans to launch printing equipment to the International Space Station, hoping that astronauts can be self-sufficient, using raw materials on the space station directly to produce what they need, changing the supply model that is completely dependent on ground supplies.

China’s large titanium alloy structure laser forming technology has the international leading level, and is the only country in the world that has mastered the laser rapid forming technology of large aircraft titanium alloy main bearing structural parts and realized the installed application. According to media reports, in the development of new military aircraft such as carrier-based aircraft and fourth-generation aircraft, 3D printing technology has played an important role, and has undertaken the trial production of titanium alloy main bearing components, including landing gear.

4, in the consumer electronics and automotive industries, 3D printing technology is mainly used for design prototype manufacturing and mold development

From a global perspective, the consumer electronics and automotive industries are the two main application areas of 3D printing technology, accounting for about 20% of the market share. From the specific use point of view, the application of 3D printing technology in the above two industries is mainly focused on the design of prototype manufacturing and mold processing in the production process. With the help of 3D printing technology to assist design and testing, it can greatly shorten the development cycle of new products and reduce the cost of trial production and testing. For example, Nokia has used 3D printing technology to complete the design and sample manufacturing of mobile phone shells and structural parts; General Motors has used 3D printing technology to print more than 20,000 parts and molds for testing, and Hyundai, BMW and other car manufacturers have also applied 3D printing technology to the development of new cars.

In the product manufacturing process, due to the characteristics of standardization and mass production in the consumer electronics and automotive industries, 3D printing technology can not meet the processing speed and economic requirements in direct parts manufacturing, so it is difficult to replace the traditional manufacturing mode in the short term. However, in some personalized niche markets, products directly processed by 3D printing still have a certain audience. For example: the mobile phone shell customized by the user, the user can participate in the design of the car.

5. In the construction and clothing industries, 3D printing can realize complex structures and greatly expand the imagination of designers

In the field of architecture, 3D printing technology was originally mainly used for the manufacture of design models, but more recently, several architects have proposed the idea of 3D printing physical buildings. The 3D printed building “LandscapeHouse” designed by JanjaapRuijssenaars, designer of the Amsterdam University of Architecture, the Netherlands, specifically simulates the Mobius ring, the plan is to use the 3D printer to print it block by block, the size of each piece is 6×9 meters, and then spliced into an overall building, It is expected to take a year and a half to complete. London-based architectural design studio SoftkillDesign has gone one step further with its 3D printed building proposal, which completely ditched traditional solid walls in favor of a bone-based fibrous nylon structure with components made from laser-sintered bioplastics.

In terms of clothing manufacturing, 3D printing can process complex styles that are difficult to complete by traditional processes, which greatly expands the imagination space of designers. Nike and Adidas have already begun to use 3D printers to manufacture some sneaker features, and there are also plans to directly manufacture sportswear.

Sales of personal 3D printing devices are soaring, ushering in the era of “makers”

Since 2008, sales of personal 3D printing devices have exploded. The outbreak of personal consumption demand mainly comes from two aspects of the driving force: first, the combination of “digital design + rapid prototyping” greatly simplifies the process from idea to product, thus stimulating the release of a variety of personalized needs; Second, with the development of technology, the price of 3D printing equipment has fallen to the level that ordinary people can afford, the price of personal 3D printers is usually less than 5,000 US dollars, and the cheapest has dropped to one or two thousand US dollars. Perhaps in the near future, 3D printers will enter thousands of households like PCS.

At present, the application of personal 3D printing equipment is mainly to meet people’s personalized needs, such as: users can make their own personalized jewelry, toys, tableware and other products at home; The “3D photo studio” based on 3D printing technology can leave realistic stereoscopic photos for people.

The combination of 3D printing equipment and the Internet has brought innovation in business models. For example, Shapeways, a web platform that offers 3D printing services and transactions, has registered 6,000 independent designers and 100,000 users in less than six years. Similar sites include Ponoko and I.aterialise. Through these websites, users can purchase design models, order 3D printed products, or open their own stores to sell 3D printed products, designs or materials. The communication and transaction costs between designers, processors and users have been greatly reduced, and even the boundaries between each other have been blurred. The new business model not only satisfies the individual’s desire to create, but can also transform it into commercial profit, which in turn will certainly further promote the growth of personal 3D printing demand. The era of the “maker,” as Chris Anderson calls it, is becoming a reality.

All major technologies are overvalued in the short term and undervalued in the long term

With the continuous progress of technology, 3D printing has been successfully applied to consumer electronics, automotive, medical, aerospace and other industries, and the proportion of direct parts processing continues to increase, and the personal consumption market has also shown explosive growth. However, the market’s expectations for 3D printing technology are not only that. In his State of the Union address, Obama also raised 3D printing as a key technology to revitalize U.S. manufacturing to the height of national strategy.

In the past more than a year, the domestic industrial industry and the capital market have warmed up sharply for 3D printing. Some experts even believe that 3D printing as a disruptive manufacturing technology, who can maximize the research and development, application, who can grasp the initiative of manufacturing and even industrial development.

3D printing technology is so hot in the short term, may not be conducive to the long-term development of the 3D printing industry, a number of industry experts have expressed similar concerns. Chris Anderson once said, “All major technologies are overvalued in the short term and undervalued in the long term.” The same is true of 3D printing.

Objectively speaking, although 3D printing technology has great potential, it does not have the strength to replace the traditional process with the existing technical conditions, and there are still obvious shortcomings in terms of economies of scale, processing accuracy, and materials. The advantages of 3D printing technology are still mainly reflected in the field of small-batch, customized, structurally complex product manufacturing. Therefore, in the future for a long time, 3D printing for the traditional manufacturing process, is a supplement, rather than subversion. This judgment is actually a general consensus in the industry, the general manager of Stratasys China company said that in the global mainstream 3D printing companies, in fact, no one will print the final product as the main market direction. Domestic 3D printing experts, such as academician Lu Bingheng of Xi ‘an Jiaotong University and Professor Shi Yusheng of Huazhong University of Science and Technology, said that they cannot see the possibility of 3D printing replacing traditional manufacturing processes at present.

Of course, if it is considered over a long enough period of time, the possibility of 3D printing bringing a new industrial revolution cannot be completely ruled out. As the Economist put it, “The impact of a great invention is hard to predict at a time like the steam engine in 1750, the printing press in 1450, the transistor in 1950.” We still can’t predict how 3D printers will change the world over the long term.”

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