Well, well — it’s the beginning of another year, and time for some forward thinking.
It’s generally difficult to predict the future, but January is as good a time as any to give it a try.
2022 is the year (hopefully) when the pandemic finally begins to truly fade away. With that change we should see a resurgence of economic activity, and that implies more manufacturing.
Manufacturers should light up, worldwide, as demand increase. However, this time there should be a change: there will be a massive increase in the use of additive manufacturing techniques.
This is because these same manufacturers “discovered” 3D printing technologies during the pandemic when supply chains broke down. They were forced to bring their manufacturing of parts in house in many cases, and the only practical way to do so was to quickly set up AM production lines.
But having done so, their staff now know a lot more about the technology, and many have been exploring ways to exploit the technology for their industries. In a way, the pandemic has been good news for AM, but that certainly doesn’t compensate for the loss of so many lives over the past two years.
New 3D Print Processes
Years ago it was normal to think of 3D printing as only a handful of basic processes: FFF, SLA, SLS and such. But over the years we’ve seen a large number of variations in these processes, and even entirely new concepts.
I have a suspicion one or more of these new processes may finally breakthrough onto the market in a much larger way.
One particular 3D printing process I have my eye on is volumetric 3D printing, a unique process that promises to enable printing of complete objects in only minutes. It’s kind of a reverse CT-scan process using a vat of photopolymer resin, and you can learn more about it here.
Race To The Bottom Shifts
I’ve already noted that the “race to the bottom” of desktop 3D printers has basically stalled, at least price-wise. There are now plenty of very competent options available for a few hundred dollars. This is a far distance from the days when the lower-priced options were really terrible machines.
What does this mean? It could mean there may be a shift in strategy for some of these low-cost manufacturers to increasing capabilities at the current price points, rather than dropping the price further. We could see an increasing number of very powerful low-cost 3D printers hit the market in 2022. What this could mean to those marketing slightly higher-priced “professional” equipment is another story.
View From The Top
I asked Nexa3D’s CEO, Avi Reichental for his views on 2022 and the future. Reichental is a well-known personality in the industry, having been in charge of multiple successful 3D print businesses, and also venture investment company XponentialWorks.
Regarding the supply chain scenario, Reichental said:
“The next year will be defined by greater technology convergence trends that are accelerated in large part by the perpetual pandemic state of affairs. The last two years have exposed a highly complex and brittle supply chain, which is top of mind for most product companies and driving CEOs to accelerate the digitization and localization of their supply chain with AM playing a central role with emphasis on speed, throughput, cost, and sustainability.
With more companies transitioning to volume additive production, we will experience stronger demand for larger build formats, functional materials, scaled post-processing, and full factory automation solutions that are anchored by advanced and adaptive machine learning and vision technologies for greater production consistency and yields.”
His vision for beyond 2022 is more dramatic:
“Over the next decade, AM will become a cost-effective and practical tool that covers the entire product life cycle from concept models to aftermarket spares and everything in between including the holy grail: volume production.”
That is indeed a dream that many have had for literally decades in this industry. Now, perhaps for the first time we can just barely begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But there’s more. Reichental continued:
“AM will go large, becoming an effective fabrication tool for planes, trains, automobiles, and homes – and also small for atomic structures.
The convergence of exponential technologies – including infinite computing power, ubiquitous connectivity, sensor abundance, collaborative and economical robotics, and deep learning-driven materials development – will reshape and redefine the scope of AM and exponentially expand its utility impacting humanity and our planet.”
That’s all that needs to be said.
Good luck to everyone in 2022!