3D printing: furniture, food, human organs and prosthetic limbs

Ashwin Venkatchari, the senior program manager for Middle East, Africa & Turkey, Imaging Printing and Document Solutions at IDC gives his thoughts on 3D printing.

What do you think has caused the sudden spark of interest in 3D printing?

3D printing has been in the market for some time now, and its roots can be traced back to the mid-1980s. It started as a production alternative for the creation of part prototypes in various manufacturing facilities. Recently, the worldwide 3D printer market has gained considerable attention as the progression of printing evolves from output on media to the creation of an object. The increasing popularity of 3D printing is also supported by the fact that the price of these machines is decreasing, and smaller models for home users are now appearing on the market. Much of the recent 3D printer hype has focused on how the technology will change the manufacturing industry, or the great things it can create. The fact that nearly any idea can be materialised is very tempting. Just imagine printing anything from a coffee mug to a cellphone, furniture, food, or even human organs. The materials available for 3D printing today vary widely, including many types of plastic, foam, metal, wood, glass, or paper.

Which sectors are driving the adoption of 3D printing in the region?

Today, 3D printing technology is used primarily for prototyping and distributed manufacturing, with applications in construction, architecture, industrial design, the automotive industry, aerospace, engineering, the military, medical industries, fashion, footwear, jewelry, art, education, food, and many other fields. In the non-business sphere, 3D printing is primarily gaining popularity with modelers, artists, and hobbyists, who are now able to work with new materials and create highly sophisticated models and compositions that would otherwise be very difficult or even impossible to create using standard methods.

How has the industry grown in the recent past (both from a global and regional perspective) and how has the adoption of 3D printing been across the UAE and the rest of the ME so far?

According to IDC’s ‘Worldwide 3D Printer 2012–2017 Forecast and Vendor Shares’ study, total global shipments are tipped to expand more than 10 times over the forecast period, from just over 31,000 units in 2012 to nearly 315,000 in 2017. The professional market will grow steadily from 8,526 units in 2012 to 31,212 units in 2017, while the desktop market will see more explosive growth from 22,542 units in 2012 to 283,435 units in 2017. For the purpose of this study, the UAE and the rest of the Middle East region are grouped in the Rest of the World category, which also comprises a wide range of countries from Latin America and Africa. This grouping made up only 2.2 per cent of worldwide shipments in 2012, and 2.1 per cent of the market’s overall value.

From a global perspective, what will drive the growth in 3D printing?

IDC predicts that professional 3D printers will continue to aid companies in shortening the design and manufacturing process, in addition to creating low-volume, highly sophisticated finished pieces without the need for outsourcing. Companies will be able to quickly produce a required part at a fraction of the cost of tooling, moulding, or other standard methods.

Another potentially significant development that will aid the adoption of 3D printing is Microsoft’s built-in 3D printing support as part of its Windows 8.1 launch. Microsoft has added an API that makes 3D printing similar to conventional printing — users can select ‘Print’ from the menu and the design is printed.

One interesting story emerged from South Sudan, where a 3D printer gave new hope to a teenage bomb victim. In March 2012, Daniel Omar, 14, lost both his arms following a bomb explosion, and when Mick Ebeling from Not Impossible Labs — an organisation that builds open-access devices to assist people facing seemingly insurmountable physical challenges — read about Daniel’s plight, he set off with a 3D printer to make a prosthetic limb for him. The project was named ‘Project Daniel’ and now brings hope to 50,000-plus amputees living in the country.


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Published: May 7, 2014 04:00 AM


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