3D printing is the essence of tech for good. Over the next decade it will be crucial to our ability to solve the climate crisis and it has huge potential to lessen the impact of manufacturing on the planet.

But the business case for embracing 3D printing is just as strong. The technology has the potential to transform every industry and change the way we work and live in the future. Within the manufacturing sector it will play a significant role in reducing waste, challenging global supply chains and offering greater flexibility in the manufacturing process.

Last year, the world experienced unparalleled growth in the 3D printing market. Entrepreneurs have clamored to enter this space for the last five years, competing to develop new software and applications. The venture capital market raised huge funds, to the sum of over $1.1 billion, by 3D printing start-ups in 2019 alone. We are already seeing unprecedented adoption rates and aftermarket supply chain growth.

It looks like this is just the beginning of the additive manufacturing adoption curve. It’s predicted that in 2020 we’ll see an acceleration in adoption rates.

This signifies an exciting shift, with 3D printing set to replace traditional manufacturing methods in many areas.

So how can businesses utilize this new tech to get ahead?

Transform Business Models And Drive Innovation

3D printing is the process of building an object from a digital file. It enables you to turn a concept into reality faster than you can imagine. Products are built quickly, cheaply and can be produced anywhere in the world. Not only does this give businesses access to new markets and regions, it enables the globalization of business and the creation of new business models.

The vast array of materials and range of scaling enables companies to unlock the disruptive nature of the technology in a number of established sectors, including food, consumer products, pharmaceuticals, industrial manufacturing, healthcare, infrastructure and transport. From a cost-saving perspective, 3D printing eliminates the need for warehouses to overstock inventory. It allows for more efficient production, reducing demand for raw materials. It also accelerates the development of new transformative products, by enabling businesses to create prototypes rapidly. The technology also reduces the need for global distribution and supply chains because of localized production.

3D Printing In Practice – Meet The Front-Runners

Healthcare

From a medical perspective, the business of 3D printing is a vast and largely untapped market. Additive manufacturing allows for healthcare professionals to have potentially instant access to, for instance, prosthetics for patients. Prosthetics are traditionally very labor-intensive and expensive to produce. 3D printing offers a way to localize the process as well as cut costs.

A brilliant example within the medical sector is Fasotec, a Japanese 3D printing company. With Tokyo’s Hiroo Ladies clinic, they developed a service that produces replicas of fetuses by scanning a pregnant woman’s abdomen. The fetus is printed with clear filament, enabling you to see the semi-formed baby inside, rather than using the typical ultrasound photos.

Infrastructure

Additive manufacturing is creating immediate benefits to the public. For instance, 3D-printed buildings are a possible solution for low-income housing. Companies such as ICON and New Story have promoted a 3D printed house, costing only $4,000.

This 3D printing technology is not only inexpensive but is also capable of constructing a single story, 600-800 square foot home in under 24 hours. Producing low-cost housing such as this in developing areas has also created 3D printing business opportunities in large cities to combat homelessness.

Food

The 3D printing food industry will have a massive impact on our economy. The market is expected to reach the value of $525.6 million by 2023, rising at an annual rate of about 46% through 2023.

It has the ability to bridge the gap between small and large-scale players.

The additive manufacturing food industry will give consumers more choice and greater accessibility to foods, as well as increasing our ability to feed the hungry in some areas of the world. Furthermore, 3D printing food will promote safer food production methods, healthier nutrient options, and more environmentally viable methods of food production for all sectors.

A brilliant example of an innovative start-up in this area is Genetics. Research suggests that humans waste approximately $1 trillion worth of food across the world annually.

Genetics are battling this by turning food waste into something of use. Under this novel structure, food waste is converted into biodegradable plastics. Using the power of biotechnology, machine learning, and microbial engineering, the team at Genetics is able to create a form of plastic from food waste that can be used to create more sustainable toys, medical devices and 3D printer filament.

Aerospace

The Aerospace and Defense industries are perhaps the most important example of the utilization of additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing could cut the time it takes to manufacture planes in half. In aircraft design, there are numerous internal parts that are highly costly and time-consuming to produce by traditional metalworking. Additive manufacturing simplifies the process. It is particularly useful in producing engine and turbine parts, cabin interior components and parts with defined aerodynamic properties. In aerospace manufacturing specifically, additive manufacturing reduces time-to-market by 64%.

3D printing also mitigates the impact of aircraft on the environment, as this process has the potential to lighten an aircraft by 55%.

For manufacturing businesses to thrive over the next decade they must embrace the possibilities 3D printing. It will open the door to transforming business models, accelerating global growth and manufacturing and selling products faster and at a lower cost. But more than that, it’s a key way to transform into more a sustainable business. 2020 is the decade of sustainability and those who fail to adapt won’t survive.

Marga Hoek is a global thought-leader on sustainable business, international speaker and the author of The Trillion Dollar Shift, a new book revealing the business opportunities provided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Trillion Dollar Shift is published by Routledge, in hardback and e-book. For more information go to www.margahoek.com