How did COVID-19 cause an increase in the adoption of 3D printing?

Credit: Pexels
Credit: Pexels

3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing that builds three dimensional physical objects layer-by-layer, as opposed to traditional subtractive manufacturing that removes material from larger blocks.

Thanks to their low price and small size, 3D printers have become a popular and accessible product for everyone. In fact, 3D printers have revolutionized the manufacturing of products, as they allow anyone to purchase a 3D printer and manufacture their own products – something that in the past only factories could do. 3D printers also help professionals manufacture the products they’ve designed themselves, which saves costs for them and for the consumers.

3D printers streamline procedures between the design and production stages, transferring the power of production to the average person, and reducing supply chain complexity, at a fraction of the cost of traditional manufacturing.

3D printers make it possible to create almost any product that comes to mind, including, houseware, toys, auto parts, jewelry and even body organs. Recently Israeli researchers introduced an amazing medical breakthrough when they succeeded in printing a living human heart via a 3D printer, based on tissues taken from a patient.

The three-dimensional revolution is still in its infancy

However, the three-dimensional revolution is still in its infancy, and still has not reached its full potential. According to ARK Investments, 3D printing for end-use parts is the next frontier, but it currently utilizes only 1% of its market potential of an estimated $490 billion. Models & tools utilize only 4% percent of their market potential of an estimated $30 billion, and prototypes utilize only 40-50 % of their market potential of an estimated $12.5 billion.

The COVID-19 pandemic is increasing the use of 3D printers

In recent years, 3D printers sales at public companies have shown instability. Although such sales are hovering around $15 billion, they do not even reach some of their potential. In 2020 there was even a decrease in sales of these printers compared to previous years. But the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp increase in the use of 3D printers.

In fact, many medical products have been manufactured using 3D printers in order to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, such as:

  1. Medical devices, like: ventilator valves, mask connectors for CPAP and BiPAP and emergency respiration devices
  2. Testing devices, like: Nasopharyngeal (NP) and wwabs.
  3. Testing and visualization aids, like: medical manikins and Bio-Models.
  4. Personal protective equipment (PPE), like: face shield and respirators.
  5. Emergency dwellings, like: isolation wards.

The 3D printer revolution is helping develop many industries

3D printing is accelerating innovation thanks to low-costs and rapid prototyping. It lowers the weight of low volume, highly complex parts, saving significant costs. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the 3D revolution is the aerospace industry.

3D Printing Unlocks the Full Potential of Artificial Intelligence In Manufacturing

3D printers make it possible to realize the full potential of artificial intelligence in the manufacturing of products that the traditional industry is unable to produce, for the following companies:

  1. Cubesat Bus for the US Air Force Institute of Technology. A 3D printer enables to produce 125 parts into 1 part, which is 50% lighter, 20% stiffer and 6X reduction in failure locations.
  2. Custom Helmet Insert for HEXR, which are 60% more shock-absorbent. the 3D printer enables 25% reduction in rotational forces to head and 45% reduction in rotational velocity to head.
  3. Brake Caliper for Yamaichi Special Steel, which is 40% lighter, and enables better airflow and pressure distribution.

3D printers have revolutionized the world of product manufacturing, allowing anyone to produce what previously only factories could make. Moreover, the 3D revolution has also made it possible to develop many industries such as the aerospace industry, thanks to the cheap and accessible production of parts. The 3D revolution also made it possible to produce products that helped fight the COVID-19 Pandemic and save people’s lives. However, it has not yet realized its full potential.

The base case scenario analysis suggests that it is likely that the global 3D printing market will scale at a compound annual rate of 60% during the next few years, from $12 billion in 2020 to approx $120 billion by 2025.

The author is a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist and has advised tech companies for 20 years.

About the Author
Liron is a 3x entrepreneur and investor with several unicorn exits in Tel Aviv's thriving tech scene. Advising investors and sourcing Technology private equity deals and alternative investments, Liron's passion is foster Israel's brightest entrepreneurs in a quest for vision and leadership.
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