3-D printing technology has come a long way in recent years, and it's really started to mature in terms of its capabilities and real-world applications. It's no longer just theoretical -- it's practical in a wide variety of instances, and that's good news for 3-D printing innovators and early adopters, as well as for the rest of the world.
Of course, we're still at the beginning of the true 3-D printing revolution, and it's likely that as the technology improves and comes down in price, we'll continue to see innovative ways of putting 3-D printing technology to good use. Nevertheless, there are some pretty cool uses of the technology on the market already and a strong indication of further disruption to come.
With that in mind, it's time to take a look at just five of the industries that 3-D printing is set to disrupt in the next 10 years.
1. Health care
Health care is an industry that's ripe for a little disruption, and what better way than with 3-D printing? The FDA has already approved the first 3-D printed drug in the U.S., and advocates say that printing drugs into cartoon characters, for example, could encourage kids to take their medication. It also allows doctors to prescribe an exact amount of a medication regardless of how much is contained in the commercially available packets at the pharmacy.
3-D printing could also print body parts and internal organs, particularly in emergency situations. When used to create prosthetics, 3-D printing technology allows you to map out a device that exactly fits the patient, rather than trying to adapt a generic model to fit the person's body. This is more important than ever at a time when our culture is pushing toward a more inclusive future. Everybody's different and every body's different. Why should health care ignore that?
Construction is arguably the most obvious industry of them all when it comes to 3-D printing disruption, so we're not going to dwell too long on it. Still, it will enable construction companies to quickly and easily create buildings from a standard model, and it could come in super useful for building low-cost housing or emergency shelters in the event of a humanitarian crisis. With 3-D printing, there's no reason for anyone to be homeless. The disruption is already happening in construction, but it's going to continue to happen for a long, long time. The next 10 years are just the start.
R&D is admittedly more of a department than an industry, but it's still worth a shout-out, because the use of 3-D printing for research and development could change a whole heap of industries, as well as the route to market for new products.
3-D printing can help the field of R&D because it makes it much, much easier to design and test new products. If you're trying to create something, you can simply print it out and play around with it, then modify your design and print it again. This process of iteration can be repeated indefinitely until the product is ready, and at a much, much cheaper cost than was previously possible for third parties. This is good news for innovators and entrepreneurs and could spell disruption for all sorts of markets across the world.
4. Commercial art
Every time a new format comes along, there are artists to take advantage of it. It's easy to see how the current generation of artists might be more tempted to pick up a 3-D printer than a chisel if they want to make a sculpture, and there are other advantages, too.
For example, imagine two artists want to collaborate but they live on opposite ends of the world. By sharing 3-D printing files -- or by hosting them on the cloud -- they can work on the project from different locations and get the same output when they print it. They could even share the source code. Imagine if da Vinci had left behind instructions for exactly how to replicate the Mona Lisa -- steps that could be followed at any time to get an exact duplicate of the real thing. There would be no such thing as a forgery, because the code itself would be the work of art.
5. Space travel
Imagine you're an astronaut and you're in the International Space Station. Imagine an important component has just failed and you urgently need to replace it. The only problem is that there are no replacement parts. Is your best option to call mission control and ask them to spend millions of dollars sending up a new shuttle, or is it to simply download the specs of the component and run off a copy on the 3-D printer?
3-D printing, then, has the potential to totally revolutionize space travel, which is good news -- especially with private companies like SpaceX getting into the game. If we hope to ever colonize Mars, 3-D printing will be essential. We can't take everything we'll need with us, and we can't just order a delivery from Amazon Prime.
In the end, 3-D printing is likely to cause the same kind of disruption as printing did, albeit in different industries. The rise of the office printer made life easier for people who work with paper, and the rise of the 3-D printer will have the same effect for people who work with stuff.
Think about it -- instead of having to order custom parts and wait for them to arrive, people will be able to download the specs and print them off, there and then. Better still, the open-source movement means that there will be all sorts of "recipes" out there, available for you to download and put to use -- or even to modify to suit your purposes.
There's a lot of talk about 3-D printing, and many people are quick to dismiss it as hype. Nothing could be further from the truth. The technology is becoming easier and easier to use, people are finding more and more uses for it, and it's still in its early years.
Keep your eyes peeled for that disruption, because it's coming.