The 3rd Generation- 3D Printing and the new technology
Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 3:19PM
Crown Printing

The 3D Generation

February 20, 2014
The 3D Generation

“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive.” – Walt Disney

What you are about to hear is true. That it involves the extraordinary lengths a father would go to give his son the chance at a normal life really is only part of the story. Leon McCarthy was born without fingers on his left hand. Prosthetic hands are expensive – tens of thousands of dollars expensive. That the Marblehead, Mass., 12-year-old was born in an age of technology – a time where nearly anything is possible – may be the most intriguing takeaway here.

Paul McCarthy had spent two years searching for affordable ways to give his son a functional prosthetic when he stumbled upon a YouTube video detailing the work of Ivan Owen, who used a 3D printer to create a prosthetic hand for a 5-year-old in 2011. Borrowing the $2,500 3D printer at his son’s school, Paul painstakingly followed Owen’s online instructions and built Leon a working mechanical hand.

Thanks to less than $10 worth of materials, a little trial and error, and yes, that 3D printer, Leon now is able to draw, pick up food and hold a water bottle using his homemade prosthetic.

“I say we’ll look back on this time in history and remember it as the start of a revolution – a revolution that will provide a 3D printer for everyone.” – Dr. Conor MacCormack, Co-founder & CEO, Mcor Technologies

It’s still probably fair to say we have not yet begun to explore the possibilities of 3D printing. The technology is equal parts game-changing and life-altering.

3D printing refers to a collection of additive manufacturing processes in which a part can be created directly from a digital file. The most common of these processes squirts a fine ribbon of molten plastic to build up an object one thin layer at a time. Since its introduction in the 1980s, the technology has transformed the practice of product design. Today, it is one of 12 technologies that the McKinsey Global Institute recently identified as having high potential for economically disruptive impact between now and 2025.

“I say we’ll look back on this time in history and remember it as the start of a revolution – a revolution that will provide a 3D printer for everyone,” says Dr. Conor MacCormack, co-founder and CEO for Mcor Technologies Ltd., which manufactures one of the world’s most affordable, full-color and eco-friendly 3D printers. “Is it hype? I don’t think so. The promise of 3D printing is as big as 2D printing. If we can take this hype and convert it to a technology with a purpose, the possibilities are endless.”

The projections for the 3D market seem to support the “possibilities are endless” theory. According to a recent “World 3D Printing to 2017” report by the Freedonia Group, world demand for 3D printing is projected to rise more than 20 percent annually to $5 billion in 2017. The report found that while professional uses such as design and proto-typing will continue to account for the majority of demand, the most rapid growth will be in production and consumer applications. 3D printers increasingly will be utilized to manufacture direct production parts and finished goods in a wide variety of applications.

In the consumer segment, projected price drops in desktop 3D printers – spurred by the upcoming expiration of patents – will motivate purchases by hobbyists and do-it-yourselfers for personal at-home use.

When Mike Littrell, president of Cideas Inc., peers into a future that includes 3D printers, he sees a world of possibilities, especially on the consumer side. “In my opinion, the tinkerer, hobbyists and educators will always drive the primary growth in consumer 3D printing. I think it will push for open source software, and newer and better materials. This, in turn, will create unique boutique companies to sprout from this new and important tool, for both the hardware itself, as well as products directly printed from the machines. The consumer market is in its infancy, but that landscape is changing quickly.”

3D printing is but one tool to explore innovation and cost reduction, to determine if a product can be built stronger with less material.” – Andy Coutu, President, R&D Technologies

On the consumer side, Littrell says there is a race between personal 3D printer manufacturers for lower hardware prices, improved quality, dimensional accuracy and, most importantly, content delivery. Today, brick and mortar consumer 3D printing stores continue to make appearances in major U.S. cities.

On the commercial side, Littrell says there is a strong interest in the metals market and a more aggressive push for using 3D printing in the customizable AM (Additive Manufacturing) market. End-use parts are becoming more common.

There is faction that believes the 3D market, at least initially, will consist of pioneers doing one-off projects, a belief that Littrell says can be misleading. “This is the largest misconception about 3D printing today. This industry has been around for about 30 years now. The hardware, software and materials as we know them today have always been driven by new product development – OEMs, entrepreneurs and industrial design companies. Nearly every product manufactured worldwide for the last 10 years has had a 3D print made during the development phase.”

Global demand for software and other 3D printing products such as 3D scanners will grow in line with the overall average, supported by ongoing needs for technological updates and upgrades. – Source: “World 3D Printing to 2017,” Freedonia Group   

Littrell says there is a big push on the commercial side trending toward custom-manufactured 3D printed parts, while consumer level printers still are a bit crude and will need substantial refinement before they can really be utilized in a similar way.

“The real pioneers in this industry are the hardware and software guys,” Littrell says.

It’s a hand; It’s a plane (wing); It’s …

There’s no end to the innovation direction 3D printing can lead us into – on both a small and grand scale. 3D printing continues to turn ideas into reality, from bobble heads, personalized gifts, toys and décor, musical instruments, dental orthodontics and automotive parts. And there’s this: According to a Wall Street Journal story, Boeing is planning to someday make an airplane wing without cutting or bending any metal using a giant 3D printer.

What we do know is that high-end 3D rapid-prototype printers have improved exponentially over the last decade, creating machines with better print quality and resolution, significantly higher run speeds, more material choices, properties and shades of color, and less of a footprint. Today, it’s possible to buy a 3D printer that can sit on your desk – similar in size to a laser printer.

“Businesses today compete with ideas in a global marketplace,” says Andy Coutu, president of R&D Technologies, a reseller of Stratasys’ full line of 3D printing systems. “In order to compete in this modern, instant world, ideas have to be very fast. What’s your next-generation product? You’d better come up with it quickly, and it needs to be better than that of your competition.”

“The ultimate future is a 3D printer for everyone. … The whole vision for 3D printing is to create innovators who will most certainly invent the future.” – Deirdre MacCormack, CMO, Mcor Technologies

For example, R&D helped one of its customers, a major luggage manufacturer, build a prototype of handles and a wheel design on a piece of luggage so it could be tested via focus group for instant feedback that was critical to the manufacturing process. Another customer, a renowned gaming-technology company, developed a cover design that it prototyped for a casino machine that would use less plastic, saving millions of dollars in the process.

“It’s a fact that the U.S. is competing with other countries when it comes to manufacturing at reduced costs,” Coutu says. “3D printing is but one tool to explore innovation and cost reduction, to determine if a product can be built stronger with less material, for example, or as a tool to check if a new design will function properly.”

Talking about the future…

Ask the experts, and they will tell you the future already has turned the corner. In 2013, 3D printing took some major strides, with one of the biggest trends being the expansion into retail as a sales channel. Mcor Technologies helped this process through its partnership with Staples in November 2012. Not soon after, Amazon, Best Buy and Office Depot entered the game.

The United States will remain by far the largest national 3D printing market in the world, accounting for 42 percent of global sales in 2017. In developed areas such as the United States and Western Europe, the 3D printing market value will be supported by the growing presence of metal-based 3D printers for the production of finished parts, as such systems are significantly more expensive than plastics-based 3D printing systems. Source: “World 3D Printing to 2017,” Freedonia Group  

Deirdre MacCormack, CMO of Mcor Technologies, believes 2014 can be even bigger. She says the 3D market may soon be defined by several factors, including acquisitions (as players strengthen their own supply chain), the addition of more service bureau business (both in retail and online); and more metal machines (following Mitsubishi’s recent announcement, MacCormack expects other players to enter the marketplace).

“The 3D printing market will continue to grow in complexity in the coming year,” MacCormack says. “And with players like Mitsubishi and HP in the game, who knows what we will see. I think consumer printing will continue to evolve as well. This will go hand in hand with the appearance of 3D printing in the retail environment. The physical retail channel holds the benefits of exposing consumers directly to the technology. It is a captivating experience, and the highly customizable nature of the technology really does motivate a broad range of applications.”

For the consumer market, MacCormack says low cost and high color capability will be imperative (think personalized figurines and busts, and 3D photos). “The ultimate future is a 3D printer for everyone. We talk about a number of trends happening simultaneously – the evolution of the maker and the user. Both groups will take very different paths to ultimately accessing 3D printing. However, the whole vision for 3D printing is to create innovators who will most certainly invent the future.”

Michael J. Pallerino is manager editor of CANVAS magazine.
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