Planes, trains and automobiles: the future of 3D printing

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Most of us won’t purchase a 3D printer anytime soon. A decent machine costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and the practical uses of 3D printing remain uncertain to the average consumer. Commercial industries, however, continue to invest heavily in the future of 3D printing technology and could flip the manufacturing industry on its head.

3D printing is often described as a disruptive technology, but few people seem to believe it. Australian researchers  recently used advanced printers to make jet engines, an effort to prove that pretty much anything can be manufactured with the same level of quality as traditional methods. The bigger picture is about speed. 3D printing allows us to do in six days what it previously took three months to accomplish.

3D printed jet engine. (AFP Photo/Lydia Hale)

3D printed jet engine. (AFP Photo/Lydia Hale)

Amazon and 3D printing?

Amazon is one of the biggest online retailers in the world, and provides a clear example of the speed with which this technology continues to unfold. Everyone knows that Amazon often toys with new ideas to deliver purchases faster. They tried to use ride-sharing service Uber to provide same-day delivery in some cities, and they plan to use delivery drones for the same cause. What is the next step in the future of 3D printing technology?

Mobility.

amazon 3d printerAmazon recently partnered with several 3D printing companies in an effort to quickly adapt to the trend in 3D printing. According to a new patent released by the company, they aim to create mobile 3D printing delivery trucks, a quest which will also help them avoid the massive storage costs they routinely incur. A buyer would customize an item, order it, and receive it in a single day. How long before drones tackle the same cause?

Amazon isn’t the only company investing heavily in the future of 3D printing technology. A small Chinese company, Winsun, recently used 3D printing to manufacture ten concrete houses in a single day. The company is apparently bankrolled by an anonymous American financial firm. Together, they plan to build 3D printing facilities in 20 countries, at least a hundred of which will be located in China.

3D printed houses. (Photograph: Imaginechina/Corbis)

3D printed houses. (Photograph: Imaginechina/Corbis)

Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor at the University of Southern California who is collaborating with NASA to 3D print lunar structures, claims Winsun stole his technology. Khoshnevis wasn’t surprised, because he envisions a grand future involving 3D printing. In five years, he says, the number of 3D printed buildings will escalate.

I think it is a shame that at the dawn of the 21st century, about two billion people live in slums. I think this technology is a good solution.Behrokh Khoshnevis

The 15 year future of 3D printing technology

Even though advancements are made every day, one aspect of 3D printing technology holds it back: energy costs money, and 3D printing uses a lot of energy. Until this problem can be rectified, the practical uses of the technology for the average consumer will remain a possibility rather than a reality.

Scientists project the growth of solar energy will hit critical mass within 15 years. Specifically, we will have all the energy we could ever need – and that means the cost of 3D printing will be drastically reduced. In 15 years, the applications for the technology will multiply exponentially, and the future of 3D printing technology will be obvious to everyone. Homes, food, drugs and electronics are just the beginning.

About Author

Jeff is a self-proclaimed pragmatic futurist; that is, he has high hopes for absurd life-altering technologies which sound too good to be true, and probably are. Although he writes on a variety of subjects, his real passion is for technological innovation and the people who make it happen. By day, he enjoys fuzzy bunnies, kittens, puppies, roller coasters and a sardonic written word or two. By night, he's busy running memyselfandrobot.com, replaying a random Final Fantasy game, or pretending to be Batman. He currently resides in Upstate NY.

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