12 Industries Affected by 3D Printing

This article is submitted by Brent Hale, a computer hardware and 3D printing enthusiast. He runs 3DForged.com where he aims to help first-timers get into the world of 3D printing by offering guides, reviews and industry news.

When you think of 3D printing, what comes to mind first? Chances are good that you imagine consumer-based 3D printers (like these) that allow hobbyists and inventors to bring their visions to life, or to print replacement parts at will. That’s certainly one face of this technology, but additive manufacturing is also much, much larger than that. In fact, it has impacts on a tremendous range of global industries and, according to Forbes, “the potential to rebalance global economies”.


rapid-3d-3d-printer-5From manufacturing to housing to food, the new technology has already made a tremendous impact, and that effect is only going to get stronger. Business Insider surveyed 624 firms in a wide swathe of industries and found that 60% of them were currently evaluating 3D printing technology for its potential. As 3D printers continue to shrink and become more affordable, you can expect more and more businesses to get on board. Still, you don’t have to wait for some future date to gauge this technology’s impact on our world. It’s already revolutionized a number of industries. We’ll explore some of those most strongly affected below.


Manufacturing has been significantly affected by 3D printing in a number of ways, but none so much as prototyping. GE is a prime example of a company harnessing 3D prototyping to change its business. By printing components for prototypes, companies are able to deliver faster, more accurate results for a fraction of the cost with older methods. It goes beyond prototyping, though – GE Aviation is manufacturing jet engine fuel nozzles on 3D printers already. Even the US military is getting into the act here – replacement parts for vehicles, body armor, weapons systems and more can be printed with relative ease and lower costs.


If there’s one sector where additive manufacturing has really stood out, it’s in the world of medicine. The Internet is rife with news about how 3D printers have changed the process of creating prosthetics, and even enabled patients themselves to have a hand in designing and creating their prosthetic limbs. Of course, that’s only one example. 3D printers have been used to create everything from sleep apnea treatment devices to organs and body parts. Even artificial implants are being printed these days (think metal hips).


The fashion world hasn’t been exempted from the 3D printing revolution. In fact, it’s embraced it. Bold designers and fashion moguls have printed everything from purses to shoes. One company (Nervous System) even created the world’s first flowing 3D printed dress. Granted, it took 44 hours to print, but that’s nothing a little ingenuity and dedication won’t overcome. In the future, look for 3D printed clothing to become a viable choice in the marketplace from big name designers and mass-market companies alike.


Education might be the least surprising of the 11 industries listed here. The benefits of 3D printing for students, schools and even homeschoolers are readily apparent. When students can print everything from a globe to scale models of cities around the world, it’s no surprise that education has benefited from this technology. Those benefits will only grow as more and more schools secure their own printers, and more households adopt this technology and discover how much it can aid in the education process.


If you missed the news story, additive manufacturing is already in space. The world’s first outer space 3D print went off in late 2014 aboard the International Space Station and was a huge success. However, it’s not just NASA and the ESA that are using this technology. Aerospace manufacturers are increasingly turning to 3D printing for prototyping, and even component design and manufacture (like GE Aviation mentioned previously). While it’s most prevalent in research and development sectors, there are 3D printed components in many aircraft currently in the sky.


Do 3D printed homes sound like science fiction? Rest assured that they will be a reality, and in a much shorter time than you might imagine. One nonprofit is currently considering using this technology on a large scale to provide better housing for residents living in Brazil’s overcrowded cities. It’s being used to create temporary shelters and housing for refugees as well. It’s only a matter of time before you can order a complete home printed by your local contractor.


Think your car is solely the product of an assembly line? Think again. Several companies already use this technology in prototyping and part testing, including Ford. However, others are actually using 3D printed components in production vehicles. With the current state of the technology, though, smaller production run, high-end vehicles will be the first to adopt this technology on a wider-scale. For instance, Bentley has already announced plans to implement this technology, and several others are considering component printing, and even the printing of entire cars. In the hobbyist sector, there are already cars on the road constructed solely from 3D printed components.


When you think about electronics, the first thing that comes to mind is, well, electricity. However, it should really be plastic. What’s your cell phone body made from? While glass and aluminum are used, plastic is the primary material here. Inside that cell phone, what do you find? Circuit boards made from plastic. Plastic is the primary material for the electronics industry, from 4K TVs to smartphones, tablets, computer monitors and more. Because of that, electronics are a prime example of a market that would benefit greatly from the cheaper and more additive manufacturing. Its also been responsible for number of innovations in this sector, allowing developers to create smaller, more compact circuitry and advanced features.


3D printed food is nothing new. It’s been at least a concept since the 1950s, but now it’s a reality. Granted, most of it either doesn’t taste like much, or it’s largely a product made with liquid sugar, but there are new options coming to market. Hershey is one example of a company putting this technology to use in myriad ways (and eventually in the production of consumer-facing products). Additionally, new technologies promise to make it possible to print food that actually tastes like what it looks like. Imagine printing a cheeseburger and having it taste just like Red Robin or Hardee’s. Novelty chocolates, sauces, cheeses, and more are already possible, and the New York Times recently featured an entire 3D printed meal that included eggplant, pizza and corn.


This one is perhaps a no-brainer. 3D printing technology seems ideal for use in jewelry manufacture, particularly fashion jewelry. However, plastic isn’t the only material available. Gold and silver filament is already on the market, allowing jewelers and designers to bring their artistic creations to life in precious metals. As 3D printers become more advanced, look for even more printed jewelry on the market, not just from smaller companies, but from some of the big name designers in the industry. It will be especially important in the creation of limited-release items and custom creations.

Toys and Collectibles

This is another industry that should be pretty obvious. However, there might be some surprises here. This new technology primarily deals with plastics, and that’s the material most toys are made from. Several companies are already creating toys for up to 10 times lower costs than what they previously enjoyed. The collectibles sector has also been revolutionized by this technology – there’s even a firm that offers full body scans to customers, and then transforms those scans into figurines, busts and action figures. The future is even brighter, with the potential for children to download their own 3D files and print toys right at home, complete with customizations they design on their own.

Architecture and Design

It’s difficult to imagine an industry that could benefit more from additive manufacturing than architecture and design. This technology enables architects to take their blueprints and designs and transform them into true three-dimensional objects, not just computer simulations of those objects. One home renovation company in Holland is even already hard at work using this technology to create examples of what customers’ kitchens would look like with specific upgrades and changes. From skyscrapers to bathroom remodels, 3D printing is having an incredible impact on the architecture and design industry.

These are only a few of the industries in which additive manufacturing has had an immense impact. It’s a global thing, affecting every industry imaginable, from automotive design and manufacturing to environmental protection. New low environmental impact filaments, the reduction of natural resource use, and the ability to print products from recycled materials also help make the world a greener, healthier place while providing economies of scale and greater efficiency to industries around the world. It’s an exciting thing. Even the home is being revolutionized, with consumers now able to print everything from new kitchen spatulas to replacement parts for their lawnmowers.

It’s not done, either. 3D printing is finally hitting its stride and reaching maturity. Further technological advances, new materials and human ingenuity will place this technology in even more areas of our everyday lives.

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