3D printing is coming of age. Not that long ago, we were still getting excited at machines that could print a 3D model of our head, or a miniature replica of a famous building. A few years later, new generation machines could print medical devices and implantable human body parts. Meanwhile, 3D printing technology for industry has also progressed very rapidly—and it’s a space to watch closely in 2020.
Additive manufacturing—the technical name for 3D printing—transforms the way we build objects, opening up a universe of new possibilities. By gradually adding layers of materials, instead of cutting and soldering, 3D printing allows us to build parts with new geometries. And new geometries have different physical properties: think of a honeycomb structure that gives you greater resistance with less weight. This is where 3D printing becomes a very powerful tool for industrial applications: we can now build parts that are lighter, more heat resistant, stronger; and we can build the same products with fewer parts: for one of their jet engines, GE engineers reduced 855 separate parts to just 12, dramatically simplifying the assembly process.
With additive manufacturing, complexity is free: we can build a geometrically very complex object as easily as a simpler one. But at the same time, additive manufacturing helps reduce complexity by giving us fewer parts to assemble.