IT Services Firms Grow as 3D Printing Grows to a $16 Billion Industry by 2018

As technology evolves, it also breaks. IT services offer the setup, maintenance, and support needed for the hottest new items in hardware and software, and 3D printing is one of the fastest growing technologies around. IT issues including user experience and customer support will be key factors in this technology adoption.

3D printing is no longer a niche industry. Some 200 startups are now marketing consumer-driven 3D printing products, and adoption of 3D printing technology is expected to be mainstream between 2019-2024. Current projections show that 3D printing is set to become a $16 billion industry by 2018. Tweet This In a June 2014 survey of 624 executives worldwide, 60% of respondents said they were currently using or evaluating 3D printing technology. This increased use is supported by research showing 40 manufacturers that currently sell 3D printers used in business.

Beyond the commercial applications, home-based 3D printing is projected to become a $70 billion industry by 2030. Home-based 3D printing allows people to create objects such as toys, tools, and other handy household items. Each printed object can be customized in size and color, too.

Early industry adopters of the technology consisted mainly of manufacturing, education, and R&D. Both new and established firms are growing alongside the general trend in 3D technology, such as established market leaders like Deloitte Consulting in 2013 announcing a partnership with 3D Systems. The groups teamed up to promote the “adoption and implementation of advanced design in manufacturing solutions.

Industry Highlights in 3D Printing

One of the most promising areas for 3D printing is the healthcare industry. Doctors and researchers are creating new implants, organs, and even limbs through the use of this customizable hardware and software. Gartner predicts that business and medical applications will see the largest impact from 3D printing over the next 2-5 years.

Companies such as Stratasys are currently using 3D printing in innovative ways, including:

  • Medical Device Creation – using printing for rapid prototyping and faster product creation
  • Preclinical Device Testing – creation of anatomically realistic models for testing
  • Medical Manufacturing – product creation for early commercialization or clinical trials
  • Sales Aids and Demos – printers create realistic models that can also travel
  • Clinical Training – design of specific models to accurately represent clinical scenarios and pathologies
  • Personalized Patient Care – optimize care with patient-derived surgical pre-planning tools

A specific subgroup of healthcare printers involves bioprinting. Although much of this technology is still in development, bioprinting is a promising new use of 3D printing. Using an inkjet-style setup, these printers are loaded with the basic ingredients to create living tissue. Companies such as Organovo are currently working to create live liver and eye tissue. In a process called Block Cell Printing, researchers are able to create and use 100% of the printed cells, as opposed to 50-80% of research cells derived from other processes.

Another impact of 3D printing will be the environmental and logistical costs of transporting goods. This on-premise method of production can reduce shipping needs and costs, downsize the need for goods warehousing and storage, and create custom replacements to increase product lifespans. 3D printed materials are produced with less wasted raw materials and transported over shorter distances. With the on-demand nature of printed items, manufacturers can produce a more diverse catalog of parts and goods as needed, while reducing their inventory costs.

The smart use of raw materials has made 3D printing technology ideal for use in isolated environments – such as space. Printing technology could allow astronauts at the International Space Station to print parts, tools and even food, without waiting for the next shuttle launch. This technology could help pave the way for future expeditions. The biggest current challenge is in adapting the technology to zero-gravity. There are similar benefits here on the ground, however, such as making rare products available in remote areas.

The widespread adoption of 3D technology across such a diverse group of industries sets the groundwork for future IT needs. Both home and business users will be adopting this new technology and integrating it into daily use. In an industry no longer dominated by a few brands and expert users, the demand for IT services and support to help standardize and maintain these systems will only increase.