The year 2021 heralds the 4th decade of 3D printing. It is the beginning of a golden decade for additive manufacturing (AM) as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changes imposed on us by the Coronavirus have had a massive effect on business and consumer behavior. Now, producers need to envision a new way of manufacturing products as the pandemic winds down.

It is time to put on our collective thinking caps and focus on new ways to use 3D printing. We need to create quick solutions to problems created by the over-centralization of manufacturing systems, climate change, and the outbreak of a pandemic.

Recent studies show that AM will continue to grow in 2021. The global market is expected to get to $26.6 billion in 2027. This projection means that the AM market should grow at a rate of 14.4 percent annually.

What Will Drive 3D Printing Growth in 2021?

As we look forward to brighter days in 2021, manufacturers have to take bold steps and put away anything that is not future-proof. They need to fully utilize the potentials and values of AM to improve global healthcare and increase economic growth.

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At the start of the global health crisis, AM provided solutions to challenges caused by medical supply shortages. However, the strength of the technology has not been harnessed. The value of 3D printing lies in its capability to create products that no other technology or manufacturing method can do.

Three-dimensional printing offers unique benefits including:

* Minimal waste: AM offers one of the most precise manufacturing methods in existence today. After designing the product or component on the computer, the 3D printer or robot creates products in layers using the exact dimensions and specifications in the design. In most cases, there is no need for additional machining processes to remove excess material.

* Compact Manufacturing: Additive machining also creates products with fewer components, thus reducing the time needed to create and assemble a finished product. Products made this way will require less maintenance.

* Flexibility: AM offers unique opportunities for customization. Producers can use a single machine with various kinds of filaments to produce numerous customized products. The possibilities for personalization are endless. So we should expect consumer products, from cars to shoes, with personalized options and features.

What are the 3D Innovations to Expect in 2021?

There will be many new inventions and breakthroughs in additive manufacturing in 2021. All industries will feel the impact of this technology, from construction to medicine and automotive and aerospace. Here are some trends to look for as the year unfolds.

3D Printing Will Be Part of Mainstream Production

In previous years, 3D printing was most commonly used for prototyping and proof of concept presentations. This scenario will change in 2021.

The barriers to the adoption of AM for mass production will crumble. Most of the potentials of AM were limited by weak economies of scale, limited material choices, and inability to scale up production.

Recent improvements in 3D printing platforms, such as software, hardware, and composite materials, are helping producers to manufacture in new ways. For example, new concrete mixtures in the construction industry now meet the quality specifications for drywalls and cladding. These materials eliminate the need to put up additional panels on walls to prevent water infiltration.

Open Ecosystems Will Triumph

In the early days of AM technology, the industry had only proprietary closed systems. So users were limited by vendors’ hardware, software, and processes. However, as the barriers around scale, strength, economics, and efficiency breakaway, the demand for 3D printing will increase rapidly.

Virtual Prototyping

As demand ramps up, open ecosystems will emerge. Many customers will ask for it because they are already using open systems and connectivity in other aspects of manufacturing. Open systems will allow manufacturers to forge partnerships that will improve innovation and provide better material choices.

More Medical Prosthetics Will Be Produced

More medical professionals will use AM to create customized prosthetics devices. The production is fast, sharable, and customizable to provide the most value to patients. So patients who need artificial limbs can get the best fit and also return for new parts that will fit them better as they get older.

An important project to watch out for in this area is e-NABLE, which is gaining momentum globally. Many innovations in prosthetics will start to have widespread use in sporting events for the physically challenged.

Decentralized Drug Production Will Be On the Rise

AM will help scientists to produce medications of high quality using a decentralized production system. In essence, 3D printing will aid drug manufacturing.

The reaction vessels for drug formulation are good candidates for 3D printing. As manufacturers distribute their reaction vessels, systems for making genuine drugs will become easier to manufacture. Consequently, those making fake drugs will not release their counterfeit products into the market when there are drug shortages.

Advances in Construction Will Produce Affordable Housing

The year 2021 will usher in some significant advancements in the application of 3D printing in construction. Today, construction firms use 3D printing to build affordable and customizable housing units with local materials. Although current technology can only create the concrete structure, industry experts believe that windows and other parts of homes will soon be constructed by robots.

In an innovative housing project carried out recently by New Story in Tabasco, Mexico, the first 3D printed home community was constructed last year. This year, many more innovations that will improve on this project will provide affordable housing for many people in rural and suburban communities.

Those are some of the innovations expected in 3D printing in 2021. Most of these developments will be propelled by the need to reduce costs and improve efficiency and as the technology continues to evolve, so will its adoption and uses.