Tech Trends for 2016: 3D printing 2.0

3D printing made an impact in 2015 but in 2016 the trend will evolve with new 3D materials that can be used to make knitwear, shoes, and baby bottles

As recognised in last year’s Tech Trends feature, 2015 was the year that affordable 3D printing became available to the masses and began to enter the mainstream. In 2016, we’ll see the evolution of new 3D materials which, in turn, will open up a number of avenues for the 3D printing industry.

An increasing number of disruptive start-ups from across the globe are inventing new 3D materials. In December of this year, South Korean 3D printer manufacturer ROKIT announced that it had created two new non-toxic 3D printing materials – Skin flex and Kitchen&Deco. These materials are completely food and skin safe and can be used to produce kitchenware, home interiors, jewellery and even baby bottles, with purchase release set for November 2016.

Last month, early-stage UK technology business Unmade was recognised by the Duke of York at the fourth Pitch@Palace for its 3D custom-design offering; it enables customers to design knitwear which is then manufactured using a built-in 3D printer.

Developments in the world of 3D printing materials are also evident in footwear. American start-up Feetz.com will “soon” be launching custom-fit 3D printed shoes. Customers will be able to upload photos of their feet and, according to the website, have the company print “perfectly fitting shoes”.

Yet the most significant development in 3D printing set for 2016 is the launch of the world’s first 3D printed car. A team at American vehicle manufacturer Local Motors recently unveiled their first model – the LM3D Swim – with a commercial launch of the car series expected towards the end of 2016.

How it works

A global market expected to reach $20.2bn by 2019, 3D printing – as explained here – creates solid objects by using laser thin layers of material laid down under a computer operated by a 3D printing device, otherwise known as an industrial robot.

As noted above, new 3D printed materials and new applications of 3D printing technology are growing at a spectacular rate. This growth has also seen a rise in businesses capitalising on the technology in order to create ‘social good’. For example, London start-up Andiamo has invented 3D-printed orthotics for young people, while Bristol start-up Open Bionics has gone so far as to develop affordable 3D-printed bionic, prosthetic hands. These bionic hands can be created in under 48 hours, cost less than £1,000, and are projected to launch in 2016 – watch a video of how it works here.


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In a report on the 3D printing space published in April of this year, Canalys research analyst Joe Kempton suggested that “while the enterprise space will undergo its own revolution from 3D printing, over the next few years we expect to see the consumer sector advance at a similarly rapid pace.

“A wider range of available materials, as well as the simplification of 3D printing software, will make it easier for these users to get the most out of their 3D printing experience, and become loyal buyers who are willing to upgrade to more expensive and consumer-focused 3D printers.”

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