It was quite some time ago that we began to speculate about the role 3D printing might play in our modern society. As the technology really started to emerge around the middle of the last decade, we previewed the potential impact on American manufacturing and highlighted broad ideas, such as reduced costs and greater design security.

Since then, at least in some cases, these have proven to be among some of the general benefits seen in manufacturing via 3D printing. But at this point we can also take a more informed look at some more specific impacts, such as which areas and industries may be most affected by 3D printing.

It would actually be fair to say that 3D printing is still just getting started when it comes to its impact in manufacturing. With that said though, these are three areas we’ll be watching closely in the next few years.

Infrastructure

Much has been made of America’s declining infrastructure in the past decade or so. In fact, it even seems to be one of increasingly few things that opposing political parties would both like to see addressed! Unfortunately, it never seems to be a real priority. President Trump made a habit of randomly declaring futile “infrastructure weeks" early in his term, to the point that the phrase became something of a meme. And recently, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggested in a strategic pitch to the Democratic Party that they ought to pitch a whole new cabinet position dedicated to infrastructure repair — but that doesn’t sound particularly realistic either.

The problem appears to be that fixing U.S. infrastructure is too big and expensive a problem to tackle when it doesn’t appear to be a political priority. However, this might be a problem 3D printing can fix.

Typically when we hear about these kinds of larger construction initiatives in relation to 3D printing, they have to do specifically with homes being planned around the world. Case in point, a fascinating report last spring revealed a 24-hour printing project meant to result in an entire new neighborhood in Latin America. Examples like this are easy to get excited about, but may also distract us from what broad infrastructure repair via 3D printing might look like. What we’re ultimately talking about is fixing sidewalks and repairing bridges; replacing cracked pipes and broken telecommunications posts; improving urban parking decks and reshaping airports. All of these efforts can and likely will be aided by 3D printing, such that it will be interesting to see if the technology finally gives the issue of decaying infrastructure the push it’s long needed in the U.S.

This incredible manufacturing technology is going to continue to be put to use far and wide, across more industries and applications than we can imagine now. Printed Circuit Board Design

On a much smaller scale, but potentially an equally significant one, we may also see 3D printing beginning to play a larger role in the production of printed circuit boards. Already the lifeblood of our electronic systems and devices, PCBs are always being improved and adapted to help drive new technology forward. And in fact, this is one area of technological innovation in which the U.S. is still the unquestioned global leader; America dominates the world in PCB production volume and quality.

As new technological concepts create greater demands for PCB design, however, a need for more efficient and flexible manufacturing is likely to arise. To be clear, PCB design via a 3D printer is already possible. It still depends on design expertise, as the specifics of the PCB at hand need to be outlined in detail in software programs. However, those programs can be made compatible with multiple types of 3D printing, which in turn may enable the kind of production that will be needed moving forward. It may depend on the specific project at hand just how helpful this is, but one can imagine 3D printing enabling breakthrough PCB designs to be shared and implemented quickly and across multiple locations at once.

Automotive Construction

We’ll also be very interested moving forward to see just how much of a role 3D printing ends up playing in the automotive industry. Right now, people tend to think about this only in the biggest and broadest of terms — for instance, imagining entire vehicles wholly manufactured by 3D printing. Some misunderstood the Tesla Cybertruck to have been a product of 3D printing when it was revealed that it was created via an origami-inspired, part-folding design. In reality though, the only full vehicles we’re seeing being made by 3D printing are, for now, concept cars.

With that said, 3D printing in the automotive industry is already making an impact. It can enable customization of certain designs, keep companies stocked with spare parts, enable better fuel efficiency, and, in all of the above, reduce material and labor costs. Because of these various perks, 3D printing seems likely to play a pivotal role in helping companies to design more eco-friendly cars without raising costs (or potentially even while reducing them) heading into the future.

This incredible manufacturing technology is going to continue to be put to use far and wide, across more industries and applications than we can imagine now. Ten years from now, we may look at 3D printing almost entirely differently than we do even now. At this point, however, these are certainly some of the areas that project to be busiest in adopting and benefiting from the technology.

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Barry Stone
About The Author Barry Stone
Barry Stone is a 3D printing fanatic who also loves to write about the tech. He’s a keen blogger, who enjoys anything groundbreaking, often writing about it as soon as new tech starts to gain interest. When he’s not writing about tech, Barry loves nothing more than reading fiction novels.




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