Emerging Trends and Profitable Opportunities in the 3D Printing Industry: A Comprehensive Guide

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Modern 3D Printing has been growing in fame and popularity since early modern 3D Printing in the 1980s. If you are curious to have a brief introduction to 3D Printing, this article is for you.

What is 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing?

3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing (AM) enables the making of physical objects from digital 3D designs. Data is used to deposit/fuse/jet/bind materials layer by layer to build up an object. Simply put, it is a process of building objects by adding materials rather than removing materials. Even though the terms 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing have different histories, they are currently interchangeable.

Is 3D Printing a Profitable Business?

The market size of 3D Printing has been growing exponentially over the last decade. Let us review some of the numbers in different years:

  • 2013: 4.4 billion U.S. Dollars 
  • 2016: 8.3 billion U.S. Dollars 
  • 2020: 16 billion U.S. Dollars 
  • 2024: 40 billion U.S. Dollars (expected)
The market size of 3D printing is growing rapidly and expected to increase to 40 billion in 2024

This rapid growth is expected to grow after 2024 as more players continue to enter the field and as current players expand their capabilities. This continuous growth is an indication of the profitability for businesses involved with 3D Printing. It is also an indication of the growing value identified utilizing the different 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing technologies.

How Many Types of 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing Processes are There?     

As classified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), standard ISO/ASTM 52900: Additive manufacturing — General principles — Terminology. There are seven different processes of 3D Printing. Those processes are different according to the method used to build the layers making the 3D Printed objects. This difference gives each process a set of advantages and makes it excel at specific applications. Here is a list of the seven 3D Printing Processes:  

Material Extrusion (ME) based 3D printing is now one of the most widespread processes used for the rapid prototyping and production of customized plastic parts directly from computer-aided design models

1. Material Extrusion (MEX)

The material phase transforms from liquid to solid, forming a linear or cross-linked polymer structure in the photopolymerization process.

2. Vat Photopolymerization (VPP)

Powder Bed Fusion is one of the 3d printing techonology

3. Powder Bed Fusion (PBF)

Binder jetting is defined as “an additive manufacturing process in which a liquid bonding ... Fundamental attributes of Binder Jetting (BJT)

4. Binder Jetting (BJT)

Directed energy deposition is defined as “an additive manufacturing process in which focused thermal energy is used to fuse materials by melting as they are being deposited.

5. Direct Energy Deposition (DED)

Material Jetting (MJ) is an additive manufacturing process that operates in a similar fashion to 2D printers

6. Material Jetting (MJT)

Sheet lamination processes include ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) and laminated object manufacturing (LOM)

7. Sheet Lamination (SHL)

Each of those 3D Printing processes has multiple technologies under them. While each process is unique with its advantages, each technology is also unique in that it can unlock unique advantages within itself. While the seven 3D Printing Processes are relatively fixed with time, the number and types of technologies under them are growing rapidly. There is no set record for the number of 3D Printing technologies in the market and under development.

This is because the different players in the field keep developing new technologies at a growing speed. While the 3D Printing processes are un-owned by anyone, the 3D Printing technologies are often governed/protected by that particular technology's inventors. For example, Fused Deposition Modelling 3D Printing (FDM) is a common plastic 3D Printing technology utilizing the 3D Printing Process, Material Extrusion (MEX).

Another example is Direct Metal Laser Sintering 3D Printing (DMLS), a common metal 3D Printing technology utilizing the Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) Process.

Major 3D Printing Technologies

The number of 3D printing technologies is increasing rapidly. Lots of those are owned by specific organizations. The major technologies you will most likely come across include: 

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is one of the most common methods. It works by heating and extruding a thermoplastic filament, layer by layer, to build an object. 
  • Stereolithography (SLA) uses a light-sensitive liquid resin, which is exposed to a light source layer by layer to form a solid object.  Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) utilizes a powder-based material and a laser to fuse the material particles together to create a solid structure.  
  • Digital Light Processing (DLP) is similar to SLA but uses a more conventional light source, like a projector.  
  • Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and Electronic Beam Melting (EBM) are typically used for metal printing, where a laser or an electron beam is used to fully melt metallic powders into solid parts.

The map below showcases the most common 3D printing / additive manufacturing technologies and their prospective processes. Keep in mind that the technologies themselves keep increasing over time with more innovation.

Under Additive Manufacturing there are 7 processes. Each o them have different application and use of materials

What is the Most Common Type of 3D Printing?

The most common and famous 3D Printing technology is Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM). However, the widespread FDM 3D Printing does not mean it is the most versatile or the one with the most value. FDM 3D Printing became the most common due to factors like the open-source RepRap movement that started in 2005 and the expiry of the patents protecting the technology, which happened in 2009. Those events drove FDM 3D Printing to be widely available at very affordable prices. Today, FDM 3D Printers can be found in universities, local schools, libraries, makers spaces, and many homes.

What is Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D Printing used for?

Here are the major uses of FDM 3D Printing today:

  1. Preliminary Prototypes: FDM is widely used to build prototypes in the early stages of product development cycles. Given their relatively compact sizes and affordability, small and medium-size organizations have them in-house and use them for early-stage prototypes. More advanced prototypes can then be outsourced using other 3D Printing processes and technologies. 
  2. Education: FMD 3D Printers are widely used in educational instructions within both primary and higher education to excite and train learners on 3D Printing and related subjects in design, engineering, entrepreneurship, and business. 
  3. Production of final products: FDM 3D Printing technologies can produce functional parts for use in different applications. For example, FDM is used to produce plastic replacement parts in commercial aircraft like seat armrests end-covers. Also, many hobbyists use FDM print parts for home usages like hangers, fixtures, and toys. 

What are the Disadvantages of Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D Printing?

The best way to evaluate a certain 3D Printing technology's disadvantages is to compare it to other technologies. As such, there are three major disadvantages for FDM: 

  1. Resolution: One of the major disadvantages of FDM 3D Printing is that the prints' resolution is not up to par compared to what can be accomplished with many of the other processes and technologies.
  2. Materials: FDM can only print using thermoplastic. Thus, metal 3D Printing is not an option. 
  3. Design Constraints: When designing for FDM printing, you would need to consider overhanging structures and the support required to build them. While this might not be an issue for most applications, it makes it challenging to print certain internal structures or complete interlinked assemblies.

Where can I learn 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing?

3D Printing is a vast field and can involve many disciplines and areas of expertise. Thus, depending on what you are trying to learn, you might be heading in a different direction. Here is a breakout of some of the major 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing involvements and hints of where you can get related learnings:

  1. Operating industrial 3D Printers:  You would likely be looking at a specific 3D Printing machine for this. You can get such training from 3D Printing machines manufacturers or their re-sellers. Thus, if you identify a specific machine you would like to learn how to operate, the best path of action would be to directly contact the manufacturer or their local re-sellers for any available training. However, there is a good chance that such training would be provided/sponsored by employers as such skills can be both job & machine specific. 
  2. Operating a consumer-level FDM 3D Printers: Given the widespread FDM 3D Printers, operating one is becoming more common than before. Maker Spaces are one of the major and most common places where you would be able to get hands-on training on operating a consumer-level FDM 3D Printer. Maker spaces have grown into an international phenomenon in recent years, so there is a good likelihood there is one in your city or close to it. 
  3. Utilizing 3D Printing to generate unique value propositions: If you are to get involved with 3D Printing at a serious level to unlock sustaining value, it would be essential to understand the overall landscape of 3D Printing, its seven different processes, the different technologies, common application, and how can you use 3D Printing to generate tangible value to both your personal and professional endeavors. This knowledge is essential regardless of your technical specialty. For such learning, you can check out our 3D Printing Opportunities and Applications course to get a strong head start in the field. 
  4. Designing for 3D Printing: in many instances, you might be designing/building 3D Models to be 3D Printed. In this case, you might not be the one doing the actual Printing. Here, it will be beneficial to understand the 3D Printing landscape and the different processes you will design for them. It would be useful to have a good mastery of a 3D design software of your choice. Luckily, there is a good selection of courses online that teach different 3D design software. If you aim to learn SOLIDWORKS, you can check our selection of SOLIDWORKS courses to guide you from a complete novice to an advanced level. 

Is It Hard to Learn 3D Printing?

The difficulty of what you are trying to learn would depend on your involvement goals with 3D Printing. In general, if there is a desire and excitement to learn, learning would be exciting rather than hard.

Suppose you are looking to gain a firm understanding of 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing's overall landscape, including all the processes, available home, and industrial 3D Printing, applications, and uses. In that case, you can check out our 3D Printing Opportunities and Applications course.   

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