Whether or not they arrive en-mass in the home, 3D printers have many promising areas of potential future application. They may, for example, be used to output spare parts for all manner of products, and which could not possibly be stocked as part of the inventory of even the best physical or even online store. Hence, rather than throwing away a broken item (something unlikely to be justified a decade or two hence due to resource depletion and enforced recycling), faulty goods will be able to be taken to a local facility that will call up the appropriate spare parts and simply print them out.
3D printers may also be used to make future buildings. Demonstrating the potential, over in China an amazing company called WinSun Decoration Design Engineering has already 3D printed a number of houses. Produced using a vast material extrusion 3D printer, these include a 1,100 square meter mansion and a five storey apartment block.
Another future application is the use of 3D printers to create replacement organs, and even to directly repair the human body. This is known as bioprinting, and is an area of rapid development.
Back in late 2012 and early 2013, 3D printing caught the world’s imagination, with many proclaiming that it would trigger the Next Industrial Revolution. To the bizarre dismay of the popular press, such a revolution did not arrive within the next 18 months. Many people subsequently not only lost interest, but decided to dismiss 3D printing as no more than hype.
The above is extremely sad, as very significant 3D printing technology developments continue to accrue. Large companies also continue to enter the marketplace, and nobody promised an additive manufacturing revolution overnight. Absolutely 3D printing is not doing to replace all forms of traditional manufacturing, and no serious pundit has ever suggested so. But within twenty years — and possibly within less than ten — the digital manufacturing capabilities of 3D printing and related technologies are set to have a transformational impact on the direct or indirect production of a reasonable proportion of products, and hence on a great many individuals and organizations.