1. 3D print shops open at the mall. 3D print shops will begin to appear, at first servicing local markets with high-quality 3D printing services. Initially designed to service rapid-prototyping and other niche capabilities, these shops will branch into the consumer marketplace. As retailers begin to “ship the design, not the product,” the local 3D print shop will one day be where you pick up your customized, locally manufactured products, just like you pick up your printed photos from the local Walmart today.
2. “Look what I made!” Your children will bring home 3D printed projects from school. Digital literacy – including Web and app development, electronics, collaboration and 3D design – will be supported by 3D printers in schools. A number of middle schools and high schools already have 3D printers. As 3D printing costs continue to fall, more schools will sign on.
3. 3D printing starts saving lives. 3D-printed medical implants will improve the quality of life of someone close to you. Because 3D printing allows products to be custom-matched to an exact body shape, it is being used today for making better titanium bone implants, prosthetic limbs and orthodontic devices. Experiments in printing soft tissue are underway, and may soon allow printed veins and arteries to be used in operations. Today’s research into medical applications of 3D printing covers nano-medicine, pharmaceuticals and even printing of organs. Taken to the extreme, 3D printing could one day enable custom medicines and reduce if not eliminate the organ donor shortage.
4. 3D printing becomes industrial strength. Once reserved for prototypes and toys, 3D printing will become industrial strength. You will take a flight on an airliner that includes 3D-printed components, making it lighter and more fuel efficient. In fact, there are aircrafts that already contain some 3D-printed components. The technology will also start to be adopted for the direct manufacture of specialist components in industries like defense and automotive. Overall, the number of 3D printed parts in planes, cars and even appliances will increase without you knowing.
5. Product innovation is faster. Everything from new car models to better home appliances will be designed more rapidly, bringing innovation to you faster. Because rapid prototyping using 3D printers reduces the time to turn a concept into a production-ready design, it allows designers to focus on the function of products. Although the use of 3D printing for rapid prototyping is not new, the rapidly decreasing cost, improved design software and increasing range of printable materials means designers will have more access to printers, allowing them to innovate faster by 3D printing an object early in the design phase, modifying it, re-printing it, and so on. The result will be better products, designed faster.