3D printing technology is here today, and it works. But PBF and other additive manufacturing techniques typically involve high financial barriers-to-entry that make the technology prohibitively expensive outside of critical applications. 3D printing may be both economically viable and advantageous for creating jet engine propellors and prosthetics. But for industries with narrower margins, e.g. consumer goods, 3D printing remains out of reach.
But this is changing. Growing adoption has led to an increase in working knowledge, improved powder processing, and technological innovations – all of which are beginning to drive down the costs of powder-based 3D printing.
Here are six futuristic applications of powder-based 3D printing that are bound to expand as the technology matures:
Containers and packaging make up more than 28% of the solid waste we generate each year. While recycling efforts are key to reducing the negative impacts of this waste, 3D printing is posed to play an increasingly meaningful role the design of more sustainable packaging.
3D printing enables the creation of especially lightweight structures that would be impossible to construct through traditional methods for manufacturing packaging, such as injection molding. From protective cases to support systems, 3D printing technology has been proven to reduce the weight of packaging by as much as 30%.
Unsurprisingly, lightweight packaging is of great interest to logistics companies. Global players such as UPS and FedEx have in recent years launched research divisions dedicated to testing and designing packaging products with the help of 3D printing technology.
From intricate cutlery to custom jewelry, metal 3D printing is expanding into the luxury goods market. And the pairing is a natural one: there is hardly a better use-case in the consumer goods space for powder-based 3D printing than one in which precious metals are used to create bespoke designs.
These innovative, luxury applications will provide proof-of-concept and pave the way for mass market applications later down the road.
The unique structures enabled by 3D printing are helping biologists build wildlife conservation tools that can withstand extreme conditions.
3D printed coral structures are introduced to struggling ocean reefs to encourage their reproduction and growth. Powder-based additive manufacturing makes it possible to design a structure that will remain upright and in one place on the sea floor, and to quickly share this design with conservationists working in reefs around the world.
Better batteries will constitute a landmark future technology, and PBF may just be one of production methods that help get us there. Polymer powder bed fusion has been tested in the production of complex, three-dimensional lithium-iron batteries.
With further development, 3D printed batteries open up a world of possibilities for electronics. Today, electronics must be constructed to house the standard-shape batteries that power them. In the future, 3D printing will enable circuit boards to be integrated into the structure of the device.
Given the rapid adoption of 3D printing in the medical prosthetics space, it should be no surprise that producers of athletic gear and sports medicine products have been quick to recognize the potential for 3D printing in their own industry.
From shoe insoles with unparalleled shock absorption, to impossibly airy bike helmets, to golf clubs customized to your swing, PBF is being used to create equipment that optimizes human athletic performance and better protects the wearer from injury.
Monitoring the populations of disease vectors like mosquitoes is crucial to protecting public health. However, surveillance efforts are made difficult by a number of logistical and cost barriers. For example, regions where malaria is endemic are often very remote and lack funding.
In a recent experiment, infectious disease experts in Essex, UK used open-source designs to 3D print industrial mosquito light traps and set them up in nearby marshes. Not only were the 3D printed light traps just as effective as the models normally used in field work, they were also 60% cheaper and weighed only a fraction of what conventional traps do.
With these findings, scientists hope to expand vector surveillance programs in especially remote areas, helping to collect more data and better fight mosquito-borne disease.
Especially in the field of 3D printing with metal powders, mixing technology has a meaningful role to play in improving the economic viability of this revolutionary production method.
Learn how sophisticated powder processing can help drive down the costs of metal powder production for 3D printing in our latest whitepaper: