This is a guest post in our series looking at the future of 3D Printing. To celebrate 5 years of reporting on the 3D printing industry, we’ve invited industry leaders and 3D printing experts to give us their perspective and predictions for the next 5 years and insight into trends in additive manufacturing.

Michael Armani is the CEO of M3D. M3D sold more than 11,000 printers and raised over $3.4 million during its one ­month debut on Kickstarter.

3D Printing’s expanding role in medicine and food by Michael Armani

If 3D printing continues evolving at its current speed into the next five years, it’s not unrealistic to compare the growth of the 3D printing industry to the growth of the computer industry.

In fact, today’s 3D printers are technologically similar to where monochrome 8-bit computers were in the 1980s and Moore’s law, which has accurately projected the growth rate of computers, could also be applied to 3D printing when looking at the increase in print resolution and print speed. The key distinction between industries is that, in the case of 3D printing, Moore’s law would be based on the number of material types, the capacity for printing in specific types of materials, and the application in varying industries—particularly in medicine and food.

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3D printing in the medical industry

The medical industry, for example, is one that demonstrates how 3D printing is rapidly growing and being embraced as a more efficient alternative to traditional manufacturing methods. In the last few years, doctors and researchers have developed 3D-printed prosthetics, skin for burn victims, hearing aids, dental crowns and facial reconstruction parts. These uses are becoming increasingly prominent around the globe because they open the door to treatment for people that may not have been able to afford it before.

Many of these medical applications use industrial 3D printers, which will always have their function, but consumer 3D printers – the compact, inexpensive and easy-to-operate alternative – are becoming a more viable option for private practices where budgets can be tight. Makers of consumer 3D printers are receiving orders at a growing rate from unlikely, but welcome, customers like hospitals, accredited medical schools, researchers and surgeons.

For example, surgeons are finding that they can print their own tools and parts instead of outsourcing to expensive vendors. Medical students and experienced surgeons alike are printing models to simulate real operations. Parents can hold a 3D-printed model of their unborn child that was created from just an ultrasound scan. The dental industry has also embraced consumer 3D printers with many practices having a printer in-office for implants.

The M3D Micro 3D printer.

The M3D Micro 3D printer.

3D printed organs?

This progression will carry us through the next five years and will likely be marked with a few major benchmarks. One advancement that will have incredible impact is organ transplants using 3D-printed replacement organs. There are millions of people around the world awaiting transplants, but it can be very difficult to find a donor that’s a tissue match and can be high-risk when one is found. This problem could completely eliminate the risk of tissue rejection with bio-printed organs, and can also be a much cheaper alternative.

Another turning point that we can expect in the next five years lies with pharmaceuticals. Custom 3D-printed dosage forms will make the droplet size and dose of medication more precise, as well as more personalized, which isn’t feasible at this point hence the “one-size-fits-all” approach now used. Analyzing each patient’s needs, age and gender, among other factors, the personalized 3D-printed tablets will be better tailored and more effective for each patient.

A 3D printed USA on from M3D.

A 3D printed USA from M3D.

3D printing food

Beyond pharmaceutical and medical uses, people around the globe – as well the Earth–  will benefit greatly from another expected advancement: the 3D printing of food itself. And not to be confused with printers that create pancake designs, too—I mean the creation of actual food. In five years’ time, the food industry will begin using 3D printers to produce meat with comparable taste and texture to the real thing, which will help eliminate the world hunger crisis and be a real competitor to traditional meat producers. Imagine, a pink steak with the marble in all the right places without killing livestock, wasting mass amounts of water or emitting carbon into the environment. It’s the kind of advancement that can save lives, help clean up the environment, and truly disrupt an industry – and we might see it in just a few years.

Looking at how technologies like 3D printing are being integrated into medicine, pharmaceuticals and food, it’s becoming clear that we’ve entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the fusing of physical, digital and biological worlds. And there are no signs of this revolution slowing any time soon. In fact, experts predict it be more impactful than past ones and 3D printing will be a core piece of that with its ability to transform industries and save lives.

This is a guest post in our series looking at the future of 3D Printing, if you’d like to participate in this series then contact us for more information. For more insights into the 3D printing industry, sign up to our newsletter and follow our active social media channels. Let us know your thoughts about this perspective on the future of 3D printing in the comments below.

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More information about M3D is available here.

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Featured image shows Michael Armani CEO & co-founder of M3D.

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