The progress that has taken place in technology in the last 5 years is mind boggling. The technology that we take for granted nowadays was not imaginable 5 years back and 2014 will bring in a lot of advances of its own. Sci-fi movies which paint unbelievable futuristic designs are starting to look realistic now. Somehow I believe this year 3D printing is going to expand or rather explode in a big way.

3D printing technology has been around for quite some time now. However it has not been used extensively nor has it been used in a revolutionary manner. All of that is going to change in the coming year. UK defence equipment manufacturer, BAE Systems has been able to manufacture parts for RAF fighter jets using 3D printers. This is a major and one of the most significant step-ups for 3D printing technology which till now has mainly been used to create prototype designs.  The fact is that defence manufacturers have put their trust in this technology, particularly in aviation which is a sector where only the brave and strong are ready to venture says a lot. The time is ripe for others to benefit from this technology which will only grow at an amazing rate.

One reason that got me really excited about 3D printing is its use in healthcare. This sector is more specifically called Bio-printing. Scientists believe that using Bio-printing they should be able to develop human body parts. Well, this is a nascent technology and has been in the works for some time now, but imagine the possibilities. No more artificial prosthetics and no more waiting for an organ transplant! Almost every part of your body could be grown in a lab which will be coded with your own DNA. It really sounds unbelievable and unrealistic, but it is not too far away from being a reality. Although it will definitely be used on human, it will take a few more years to become affordable to masses. But, just thinking about it gives us hope for the future.

Economically the numbers are amazing too. The market for 3D printing has scaled up 29% from 2011 to 2012 and is expected to grow at least 30% annually for a long time to come. If you include the new markets and sector that are opening up to the advantages offered by 3D printing then it is definitely going to be a multibillion industry worldwide by 2015. Currently this industry has a few players and has scope for major companies to join the bandwagon and reap benefits as well as add value to this brand.

The annual reports for 3D Systems, the pioneers in 3D printing technology are a clear proof of the gains the industry has made over the last 3 years. In 2009 the company had operating revenue of £69 million. In 2010 this rose to £97 million. That’s a rise of about 42%. By 2011, the revenue had gone up to £140 million which is a rise of about 44%. In 2012, the revenue shot up by a whopping 74 million to reach £214 million which is a phenomenal hike of 54 percent. Rest assured, these numbers will only continue to grow as the years roll by.

The major challenge that 3D printing still faces is the cost factor. Currently 3D Systems have a stranglehold on this industry and enjoy a monopoly due to which they still charge consumers a premium for their products. Once more players emerge in this sector, the competition will cause prices to drop and we the consumers can reap the benefits.

Currently the world of 3D printing has a lot scope for future growth and we are only limited by our imagination. Till now 3D printing human parts may seem just as a dream because technically blood vessels are too small to print on a 3D printer. However once scientists are able to overcome these hurdles then printing body parts will become a reality.

However this also leads to another question, up to what extent can we go? Printing an arm and a leg will be the best thing to happen. However the technology should not be misused. Ethically it raises a few questions too, like can we print a heart using this technology or a brain and if yes, should this be allowed? Are we playing God? Currently we are nowhere near achieving such capability but we will in the future. Before that we need a governing body to lay a set of rules and framework for this technology so that this wonderful innovation is not used for destructive purposes and is only used for the betterment of mankind.



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