10 Exciting Applications Of 3D Printing That Could Revolutionize Industry And Society

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Occasionally there will be a trending news story about a novel application of 3D printing, but it may not generate more than passing interest in most people. But think of the tools that were once relegated to the realm of science fiction that have since become science fact. For example, Star Trek’s communicators and handheld information “PADDs” almost seem like predictions of today’s cellphones and iPads. Could it be possible that the series’ replicators come to real life in the form of 3D printing?

The answer may be yes. Tech leaders see plenty of reasons to be optimistic—even excited—about the potential of 3D technology, which they say could revolutionize industries ranging from healthcare to housing as well as the ways consumers access needed goods. Below, 10 tech experts from Forbes Technology Council share a few widespread business and societal needs that could someday be met through 3D printing.

Members of Forbes Technology Council share exciting potential uses of 3D technology. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS.
Members of Forbes Technology Council share exciting potential uses of 3D technology. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS.

1. Prosthetics And Human Organs

With the refinement of materials and techniques, 3D printing is going to revolutionize the medical field. 3D printing is already being used to create tailored prosthetics and tooth implants. In the near future, we might even have the technology to replicate human organs. 3D printing would be used to create the scaffold of an organ, followed by the use of stem cells to grow tissue. - Archil Cheishvili, GenesisAI

2. Biomedical Implants

3D printing has evolved to 4D printing, which can be used for drug research, biosensor development and optics. 4D may even lead to cures for rare diseases through the creation of biomedical implants that can change and modify their shapes to suit the environment around the organ. - Bhagvan Kommadi, ValueMomentum

3. Pharmaceuticals

The 3D printing of drugs is amazing! It allows for a much quicker turnaround time when manufacturing different medicines because machine cleaning is simpler. In 2015, Aprecia Pharmaceuticals’ Spritam levetiracetam became the first 3D-printed drug approved by the FDA. In the future, 3D printing could facilitate the local manufacturing of drugs on demand. That could dramatically impact drug distribution and allow local geographies to rapidly tackle infectious diseases. - Susan Lang, XIL Health, LLC

4. Emergency Response Structures

One area where 3D printing will be of immense benefit in the future is emergency response infrastructure. Startups such as Texas-based ICON and California-based Mighty Buildings use 3D printing to create buildings. ICON can build a 500-square-foot home in 24 hours, and Mighty Buildings structures require 95% fewer labor hours and generate ten times less waste than conventional construction projects. The ability to quickly set up an emergency response center or a portable hospital in response to a catastrophe is going to be needed even more in the future. - John Cho, Peraton

5. Interplanetary Travel And Colonization

Many of the benefits of 3D printing here on Earth are clear, but what’s truly exciting is the potential for the technology to impact travel, exploration and, eventually, life in space. I see 3D printing becoming integral to the establishment of homes and communities on other planets—even supporting affordable and sustainable housing options to address major societal issues such as homelessness. - Jonah Myerberg, Desktop Metal

6. On-Demand, Tailored Clothing

The clothing industry generates a tremendous amount of waste, which ends up in landfills. I recently purchased a pair of 3D-printed shoes, and they are amazing! Imagine if clothing could be printed on-demand, to our measurements. We would get more of what we want with little waste. I’m also fascinated by the application of 3D printing to address housing shortages. - Kathy Keating, Ad Hoc

7. Custom-Fitted Personal Products

From safety equipment to clothing to seating, there will soon be a revolution in custom-fitted products. Imagine a motorbike helmet that is custom-fitted to your head shape to reduce impact damage. Imagine custom-fitted car seats for kids or adults to improve safety. And then multiply that for all other ergonomic products, including clothing, glasses, keyboards, mice—even phones. - Nick Herbert, Fujitsu

8. Educational Materials

3D printing technology can be used in education to spark student creativity and improve learning and collaboration. It can bring objects out of textbooks and off computer screens to provide learning benefits that cannot be achieved otherwise. For example, students could print out 3D topographical models to learn geography or 3D biological artifacts to learn science. - Zheng Fan, University of Miami Herbert Business School

9. Food

Right now, it takes two years of feed, water, land and methane production to turn a grass-fed cow into a filet mignon. Lab-grown meat is already being produced. In your kid’s lifetime, a filet mignon will be printed from a bucket of enzymes—but it will still be meat protein. And if we are doing that, why not ensure consistent, widespread top quality by using the formula to make every filet the equivalent of a Kobe Wagyu cut? - David Moise, Decide Consulting

10. Replacement Parts For Household Items

Eventually, people will be able to use 3D printers to create replacement parts for things around the house. I believe there are several major benefits to putting the replacement parts industry in the hands of consumers. It will eventually save business owners time and money, and it will make it easier for people to maximize the value of their purchases, which means more happy customers. - Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster