The 3D printing craze has started from a mere hobby for those able to afford the expensive machinery to an activity with a much wider and commercial focus.

While most early products made from 3D printers were simple and easily manufactured, now these products have advanced in a short amount of time to create complex features – even weapons, which have caused the ire of the United States’ government.

The potential for 3D printing is easy to grasp but the potential in 3D printing goes far beyond what the consumer can make in their own home. With businesses now having access to this type of material, not only can manufacturing companies create prototypes at a much faster speed, but other businesses will have access to easily created products for whatever use they need – including marketing.

This digital revolution is having a profound impact on the manufacturing industry, which is undergoing a shift similar to bricks and mortar retail.

With 3D printing on the verge of becoming mainstream, the power to create products in a short amount of time is putting power back into the hands of consumers.

Moving forward
with 3D printing 

While some of the first examples of 3D printing were rudimentary, using small knick-knacks and objects to prove the technology’s worth, more advanced products have begun appearing.

The trend has now moved into retail – eBay launched a marketplace for 3D-printed products last year called eBay Exact, where users are able to work with businesses to create the exact products they want.

For smaller businesses, this is a lifeline which allows them to work with manufacturers who may not otherwise do deals with such small businesses – which typically don’t require larger orders.

But there are plenty more uses for 3D printing which go beyond merchandise and products aimed at the consumer.

The healthcare industry has been particularly blessed by the advent of 3D printing, with professionals able to create prosthetic limbs and other life-saving gadgets. The powers of 3D printing in health go beyond the artificial and extend into the organic – the first 3D printed organ was made last year.

At this point, using 3D printers to create body parts is a highly technical and lengthy process. But there are more indications using 3D printers to replicate organic matter is becoming more viable. Last year, a child in the United States received a new windpipe created through a 3D printing process.

On the other end of the spectrum, officials in the United States were drawn to the prospect of 3D printed weapons last year when early models started flooding the internet.

The success of these models shows just how complex 3D-printed structures can be. This opens up plenty of possibilities for businesses, but also highlights what will no doubt be a significant area of development for regulation.

The possibility
of enterprise

The opening of an eBay marketplace primarily for products in the 3D space is the beginning of what could be a significant shift in the manufacturing industry.

Not only will 3D printed products give smaller companies the ability to reach manufacturing capabilities, for which they have never previously had access, but they will inject a significant amount of products into this space in smaller volumes – something the manufacturing industry has previously struggled with.

Along with innovations in the healthcare industry, the dawn of 3D printing is very quickly becoming a viable production process – and not just a science fiction pipedream.

 

Contributor

Nick Spooner

Nick Spooner is a partner at PwC and the leader of PwC Digital Services Experience Centre across South East Asia and Australia.

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