In 2013, 3D printing was technology's darling. Seemingly every week yielded a new innovation and, for the first time in its history, companies like Amazon created dedicated 3D printing pages for consumers. But what exactly will 2014 bring for an industry that seems to be growing exponentially? Will prices finally lower so that 3D printers will become a household staple? What industries are new to cash in on 3D printing? Will the growth come to a halt? We wanted to provide the inside scoop.
Problem Making 3D Printers User Friendly
As of right now, 3D printers are not designed for most users. Cost is certainly a factor, but another major problem is hampering growth in the home market. As Forbes reported, making these printers more user friendly for 2014 will enable long-term success for the industry.
How can they accomplish this? The biggest barrier is knowledge of CAD software, which is a specialized design software that enables the printer to be "smart enough" to print the objects. Consumers expect minimal clicking and effort to get an object printed, much like conventional inkjet printers and paper documents. If the industry can simplify the process of using 3D printers, future revenue streams can be increased.
Chasing the Military Market
It's no surprise that military contractors are looking to cash in on the success of 3D printing, which can help simplify the production process and decrease costs in the long run. Of course, 3D printed guns are going to be a highly contentious application of 3D printers, but other less politically charged products are also being produced.
Just last week, a British defense giant successfully flew a fighter jet that was made with 3D printed components for the first time in history. US-based defense companies might be looking at similar applications. Other technology would also allow for fast and efficient production of radio antennae and other small parts that would help soldiers in combat.
The Risk Of 3D Printing
Even as the industry is expanding into new territories, huge challenges remain to keep the momentum going. In a recent piece in Time Magazine, the author commented, "We think people may be overestimating the 3D printing ramp in mass manufacturing over the next year." It's still unclear if the long-term interests in the consumer market and other profitable industries will catch on in 2014.
Overestimating the need to produce printers could leave smaller 3D printing companies belly up, or change the outlook outside investors have for the industry's success, potentially limiting funding for medical applications or other socially conscious research development. Which is to say, because the growth has been so sudden, now is a time when a collection of small mistakes could lead to setbacks for several years.
2014 will be an exciting time for all kinds of printing-related developments, but especially for 3D printing, which turned into a pop culture phenomenon for the first time last year. We're not 100% sure what kind of year the industry will have, but we're watching closely and will keep you updated. Feel free to share your thoughts about 3D printing below.