As of 2013, the market for 3D printing expanded into a $3.7 billion industry, according to 3D printing industry analysts Wohlers Associates. Now a new report shows that 3D metal printing grew by 75% in 2013 as more manufacturers look to this latest technology to produce parts.
For consumers and professionals alike, 3D printing is in demand for creating anything from toys to artificial limbs and organs, with the latter purpose becoming popular in the medical industry. Most of these 3D printers use polymers as their base to form plastic items.
In 2013, the number of sold 3D metal printers, which can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, was 348, up from 198 machines sold in 2012. The recent growth in 3D metal printers is mostly attributed to commercial applications ranging from aerospace manufacturing to the production of dental and medical devices.
However, experts warn that even those in manufacturing industries should proceed carefully when using 3D metal printers. As Terry Wohlers, President of Wohlers Associates, explained in a Forbes.com report, “Printing in metal is another animal [when compared to printing plastics]… Temperatures are much higher, so safety is an issue.”
Wohlers also stated that printing plastics comes with enough difficulties that most consumers will never use those machines. When it comes to 3D metal printing, Wohlers cautions that removing finished materials from a printer takes “a lot of know-how” and the use of tools such as band saws and grinders.
Even as the 3D printing trend continues, digital printing is still in high demand, especially for large format printing services that handle commercial jobs. Canon, famous for their printers and digital cameras, introduced their newest wide-format printer in their Océ Arizona 6100 Series, the Océ Arizona 6170 XTS, on May 20.
Printing application examples for the Océ Arizona 6170 XTS, displayed at digital wide-format event FESPA 2014, include bespoke wallpaper, printed stained glass, printed laminate flooring, printed decorative features on wood, weather-resistant digital map printing, and lenticular printing for 3D displays.
“The evolution of 3D printing is quite exciting,” comments Scott Trueblood, President of BrandVision Printing, the online printing arm of BrandVision Marketing. “Watching this evolution progress will certainly be interesting. Especially considering the intersection of 3D printing with large format printing—trade show exhibits, creative retail displays, and more. The creative possibilities are exciting.”
As both wide format and 3D technologies continue to emerge and evolve for printers, the possibilities expand as well. From being used to save lives by medical professionals to providing a myriad of manufacturing uses across industries, printing in all formats has made plenty of jobs — and lives — easier.