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2020 was a year that none of us could have predicted, with the pandemic impacting and galvanizing the manufacturing and engineering industries in multifaceted ways. As COVID-19 swept across the globe, it flipped 2020 on its head and forced businesses and individuals to adapt. Global supply chains transformed and the world moved from the physical to the digital regarding workforce operations, social communication and cultural consumption, with 3D printing at the heart of such change.

As stated by Nasdaq, “Medical supply chains were utterly decimated at times last year and 3D printing became a vital technology to support healthcare systems in crisis.” Looking to the future, the 3D printing healthcare market is expected to see a 19.2% CAGR between now and 2026.

Indeed, 3D printing became a beacon of hope and continues to be a crucial component of overcoming and tackling the deadly coronavirus, cementing its pivotal and ongoing role in engineering and manufacturing processes.

How 3D Printing Helped Tackle COVID-19

How GrabCAD Shop Helped Get Thousands of Face Shields to COVID-19 Front Lines2020 saw 3D printing step up with solutions to the pandemic in several ways, including the rapid production of 3D printed face masks and shields. With the help of GrabCAD Shop, 3D printing giant Stratasys quickly printed over 100,000 face shields for hospitals, medical personnel and other first-line responders.

It has since shipped over 275,000 shields and branched out to 3D print nasal test swabs and offer face shield frame files for download. Similar ventures were taken on by companies across the globe, as the production of mask adjusters, temporary emergency isolation spaces, hands-free door openers, test swabs and respirator parts became a priority. Movements such as the ‘innovate2ventilate’ project encouraged widespread community innovation and ingenuity like never before in the 3D printing world.

2021 Additive Manufacturing Trends 

Looking ahead, 2021 holds endless possibilities in this realm and hopefully a brighter future for us all, thanks to its abilities. Additive manufacturing (AM) is forecast to grow over the next five years by somewhere between $51 billion to $120 billion.

Tacking the ongoing pandemic

COVID-19 rapid tests: An advanced biosensing platform that detects COVID-19 antibodies in seconds has been tested for future roll out. Co-author on the study, Rahul Panat, said:

“We utilized the latest advances in materials and manufacturing such as nanoparticle 3D printing to create a device that rapidly detects COVID-19 antibodies.”

Importantly, the unique testing method has the potential to be applied to the rapid detection of other infectious diseases including HIV, Ebola and Zika. It could help to discover how different patients respond to varying COVID-19 vaccines. Such developments mean 3D printing could be at the center of pioneering disease detection and control going into 2021 and beyond.

Increased demand for industry specific 3D printers/materials

Companies ranging from Bugatti and General Electric, government agencies such as NASA, city planners and healthcare sectors across the world are changing how they operate to take advantage of 3D printing. Since additive manufacturing offers the ability to save on time and cost, reduce waste, use up waste materials during the printing process itself and simplify supply chains, there will be growing opportunities for collaboration between additive manufacturing and other major industries.

Aerospace: As the aerospace industry continues to cumulatively invest in 3D printing, we can expect to see further on-site 3D printing operations in this realm. On-site 3D printing capabilities offer groundbreaking real-time design, advanced processing, safer trial methods and implementation of customized components.

Going forward, keep an eye on NASA’s OSAM-2 (formerly known as Archinaut One) project in conjunction with Made In Space Inc. This mission will demonstrate the ability of a small spacecraft to build, assemble and deploy complex structures in space using the 3D printing capabilities of a Motiv xLink Robotic Arm.

3D bone printing: We may start to see 3D printers become more commonplace within hospitals and operating theatres specifically. UNSW Sydney scientists have created a ceramic based ink that can ‘print’ new bones within mere minutes, using living cells and without the need for harsh chemicals/radiation.

It would enable surgeons to 3D print bone elements, with the potential for the technology to be used to repair damaged bone caused by trauma, cancer and many other scenarios.

GrabCAD Print Bone Preview

Have you tried Bone Preview in GrabCAD Print? This new feature for the J750 Digital Anatomy Printer enables a slice-by-slice preview of the inner structure of a bone to validate that the structure corresponds with your intention. Download GrabCAD Print.

Aviation: General Electric plans to utilize 3D printing and save up to $3million per Boeing 787, simultaneously ensuring a 25% drop in weight, streamlining supply chains, increasing productivity and reducing engine production assembly times. They explained how “in a new advanced turboprop engine, a dozen 3D-printed parts replace 855 components produced by multiple contractors”.

Car industry: 3D printing will also have an increasingly important role to play in vehicle production. Bugatti engineers have invented a pressure loaded coupling rod using AM techniques that weighs just 100g but can transmit a force of up to 3.5 tonnes.

Then there’s BMW who continue to use their 3D printing technology (at their very own Manufacturing Campus in Germany no less) to efficiently create tailored precision plastic and metal components using special algorithms.

Architecture: 3D printing for housing development has been in the works for a while since additive manufacturing has the potential to cut build times, reduce the chance of injury, reduce waste and lessen environmental impact. Expect to see more of this technology in the coming year though, particularly as companies try to reduce the number of people on site at the same time and in close proximity due to the virus.

Impressive examples so far include the printing of a 1,407 square foot home in just eight days by 3D Printing company SQ4D, boasting a total of just 48 hours in print time. The house was entirely printed and built on-site, for less than $6,000.

Then there’s the 7,000 square foot 3D printed home in Dubai, a country that aims to have a minimum of 25% of every new building 3D printed by 2025.

Power of Data and Greater Automation

3D printing is a complex process and producing intricate parts out of varying materials means there is significant data preparation and post-processing required to guarantee the end result comes out as planned.

As stated in Engineering.com: “It’s no surprise that before machines can automatically do everything for us, we’ll have to automate the machines even further. And this is exactly what a number of AM systems manufacturers are working on.”

3D printing companies are making this a priority across the board. Indeed, by increasing automation and improving data processes, the result is improved production times, reduced costs, greater revenue and minimal errors. Over the coming year expect to see more data driven 3D printing and greater automation within AM thanks to software solutions such as GrabCAD Shop.

An example of this is Stratasys’ Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator, which consists of a scalable series of FDM 3D printers that continuously print batches of parts. Scott Sevcik, vice president of Manufacturing Solutions at Stratasys, said:

“We’re utilizing industrial robotics and industrial motion control as the motion system for the deposition head. By doing that, we’re using control systems that are known on the factory floor that integrate well with the factory floor, that have the interfaces necessary for interconnection technologies so the data can be known of the system and fed back for process control usage and basic factory planning, and so that additional analytics could be collected.”

In Summary

3D printing has undoubtedly helped ease some of the upheaval of 2020 as it continues to help to meet the unprecedented demand for medical supplies and aid towards testing and treatment of the coronavirus and other deadly diseases.

It is also clear additive manufacturing will continue to provide solutions to industries of all kinds and transform the global economy in 2021. Investment will increase as spotlight on the revolutionary technology shines brighter than ever.

3D printing has never been more at the heart of everyday living for us all and I have no doubt that the next year holds endless opportunities for creativity, innovation and enterprise. Watch this space!

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