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Tech trends for 2015: 3D printing

No longer restricted to those with a large budget, in 2015 affordable 3D printers will become available to the masses...

“With 3D printers that anyone can use, and more companies throwing their weight behind the technology, […] expect 2015 to be the year when 3D printing reaches the mainstream”

Having already started to grow legs as a tech innovation, 2015 is the year 3D printing will really take off as start-ups and corporates begin to roll-out affordable 3D products which are accessible to all those that will find it useful, from developers and artists to retailers and families.

A recent report from Wells Fargo Wealth Management; Beyond 2014: Evolving Opportunities in Technology, supports this trend with 3D printing said to be one of the fastest growing areas of the IT sector and shipments of 3D printers expected to grow by 95% between 2012 and 2017.

Highlighted by Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Media Business as one of “three new things” set to change the way we live and work, recent advances in 3D printing has seen the technology step up a notch from the previously complex prototypes to viable user-friendly products. These advances include a range of new “reasonably priced” 3D printers such as UK-based CEL’s Robox device backed by £280,000 from the crowd, and Amsterdam-based 3DHub.

The list of materials which can be created by 3D printing has also expanded and now includes toys, jewellery and fashion garments, to name just a few. The growing possibilities for 3D printing can also be seen in the diverse mix of new businesses launching in the industry, one start-up in particular, Three Over Seven, demonstrates the commercial opportunities of 3D printing as it uses a mobile phone scan of your feet to print pairs of shoes.

Social entrepreneurs are also beginning to move into the space – Andiamo, a 3D scanning and printing orthotics service for children, has used the developments to enhance its ‘tech for good' service. Interest has also grown in the corporate world; the Royal Mail this week announced it will be investing in 3D printers from iMakr and providing them as a service at its Central London offices.

Just as 3D printing is set to progress in the year ahead, so too is 3D scanning. Fuel 3D, an Oxford University spin-out that develops handheld 3D scanners for use in 3D modelling applications and 3D printing, secured £4m last month to support its product launch in early 2015 and it already has deals with distributors in 23 countries. It had previously raised Kickstarter funding of $300,000 and £1.6m seed backing from angel investors.

How it works

Technically referred to as additive manufacturing (AM), 3D printing creates solid objects by using lazer thin layers of material laid down under a computer control operated by a 3D printing device; an industrial robot. 3D printing isn’t limited to a certain size or type of object, initially pioneered by large industrial companies to create components and parts, more recently it has also been used by a number of start-ups to create prototypes, models and customised items.

3D printers all use different processes to create printed materials. Robox, for instance, enables you to ‘plug and print’ models in a wide range of materials and colours – an offering which it says is “disrupting the traditional manufacturing process and bringing micro-manufacturing to the masses”.

Robox creator and CEL founder, Chris Elsworthy, discussed the opportunities for 3D printing in 2015:

“As we move into 2015, I expect education and the shift towards big brands offering designs online to be major drivers of consumer 3D printer uptake. As printers get better and more affordable, we’ll start to see more printers in schools, which will drive a focus on design skills and manufacturing on the syllabus.

“This in turn could have real long-term benefits for the UK, as the government seeks to re-balance the economy back towards manufacturing. As more people are exposed to 3D printing from an early age, they’ll gain the skills to manufacture and prototype designs with hardly any investment, boosting creativity which will yield economic benefits in years to come.

“With a place on the syllabus, 3D printers that anyone can use, and more companies throwing their weight behind the technology, I fully expect 2015 to be the year when 3D printing reaches the mainstream.”


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