Konrad Malik: What To Look For in the 3D Printing Market in 2018

It seems as though each week brings word of another exciting breakthrough in 3D printing technology and what you can do with it.

In just the last few days, I’ve seen news coverage of these advances:

· “Printed Wi-Fi” that enables Wi-Fi connections without electronics or batteries by using 3D printed objects and sensors. A University of Washington-designed device pairs a 3D-printed gear and spring. Activated by air or liquid, the gear tightens the spring, which connects to a 3D-printed antenna that essentially reflects ambient WiFi signals in the environment. Attached to, say, a laundry detergent bottle, it can monitor when the contents are getting low.

· 3D printed “polar optics” contact lenses with the potential to help protect people who have photosensitive epilepsy from seizures. The unique invention of a New Zealand student is now being commercialized. The expected cost per pair is $14 (U.S.).

· Printed buildings. A Siberian start-up recently got $6 million in private equity funding to further its 3D-mobile robot printing technology that can build walls in any design of buildings as high as three stories. Last year it printed a 38-sq. m. house outside of Moscow in under 24 hours and for less than $10,000.

Can this pace be continued in 2018?

Maybe, though some suggest the industry might want to keep the lessons of the tortoise and hare in mind as we move forward. As Tim Greene of IDC told 3D Printing/Investing News, it’s been an exciting ride for the technology, but the pace might be too fast.

We have, in fact, seen a lot of eagerness on the part of companies interested in using 3D technology to replace processes they’ve depended on for years. There is a lot of potential for this to happen as the technology continues its evolution. But Greene smartly recommends caution, and taking the time to thoroughly understand 3D printing’s potential and the limitations. It is, after all, a very dynamic market.

So what can we expect for 2018?

In terms of growth, a Market and Markets report projects a compounded annual growth rate of 25.76 percent through 2023, when the 3D market should reach $32.78 billion.

And what kind of developments will be driving such growth? As 2018 progresses, advances are expected in nano-printing and 4D printing. Nano printing – of particles naked to the human eye has the potential to transform electronics. It’s being tested now in the production of batteries that will significantly boost the processing power of electronic devices. With 4D printing, we are looking at the emergence of programmable printing – using materials that will be able to respond to factors in the environment like heat and transform after construction.

It’s been an exciting journey so far, and 2018 promises to continue the trend.