2014 has certainly been a wild ride – the 3D printing industry is maturing. As a result the number of stories about the technology and its applications is growing rapidly and keeping up with it has been the wild bit. And, when I say ‘stories,’ I also include real stories, close-knit stories and a whole lot of bullshit that this industry throws at it. I’m not including any bullshit story in my top picks of 2014, but a self-indulgent story.
The rest are what I classify as real stories – where I believe 3D printing technology, in capable hands, is changing the current paradigm for the better. What I’m trying to do here is to show that 3D printing – in a production environment or on a desktop – is capable of doing amazing things when amazing people use it….
Before we get to the applications though, I really can’t close out the year without mentioning the two new 3D printers that stirred things up in 2014 — from Autodesk and HP.
While the two companies are partnering in various ways, the two 3D printers are at opposite ends of the hardware scale, united by the potential disruption they (IMHO) can bring to the emerging 3D printing ecosystem. While neither machine is commercially available yet, I see both of these machines as symbols of the growing energy in the 3D printing industry – and the fun that lies ahead.
5. 3D Printed Shoes
At the start of the year, I got a glimpse of a pair of shoes that I immediately fell in love with because they’re black and high. The 3D printed metal heels are what make them stand out and make me want to own a pair. Then in March, I saw them in person – and tried them on!! It was a personal, memorable, 3D printing smile moment from 2014 – 3D printed high heels that are elegant, functional, wearable (without risking death) and beautiful. Now, if they were just my size….
In the scheme of things and considering applications to follow, it’s not so important, but you should never underestimate the power of a smile – in and out!
4. GE’s LEAP Engine Fuel Nozzle
This story, of necessity, is a slow burn. GE has been working with additive technology for many years, really since its debut as rapid prototyping. I believe the company was one of the first to realize its potential for manufacturing and production applications, but when you’re building engines for airplanes it’s not something that can happen overnight, or one or the other.
Happens even within two years. GE’s work with additive tech has been largely under the radar during the past few decades, with snippets making it around, notably indicating a ramp up with the acquisition of Morris Technologies. The LEAP engine made it to Mike’s list last year, thanks to the success the company can demonstrate itself in making fuel nozzles with 3D printing technology. However, in 2014, the LEAP engine took to the skies for the first time, with the first test flights taking place back in October.
The slow speed I mentioned comes from the rigorous qualification procedures that critical parts of the flight must go through – but if you can find me a passenger aboard a plane that wouldn’t be bothered if you told them that every single part of the plane The component hasn’t been tested to the nth degree, I’ll stop harp! Issues of competency – of processes and materials – are ongoing, should always continue as long as we value life, and so when seemingly tedious processes prove to be true, we should celebrate. I still wonder if this story didn’t get more noise at the time – it’s an important milestone for me.
3. Kinematics of the Nervous System
Nervous System’s kinematics brings together all the threads of the 3D printing ecosystem in a way that is both accessible and breathtaking now and potentially even more in the years to come. It’s the stylized design, with the products available now and proven concepts that point to the full potential of 3D printing in the future.
The Nervous Systems team is working incredibly hard to push the boundaries with original design and 3D printing process capabilities – the results speak for themselves. On 4D printing, I look forward to meeting and talking to Jessica Rosenkrantz, Creative Director at Nervous Systems, one day. I still have a lot to learn and I think he is a source of vast information and ideas.
2. 3D Printed Heel Bone
When it comes to critical issues, improving the human condition and the lives of those suffering as a result of physical trauma and/or debilitating diseases comes close. 3D printing technologies are helping to support this effort in myriad ways. Research and development has made headlines in this area for a few years now and the work continues at a rapid pace but I think 2014 has been a year that has seen wide application at the point of care.