The futuristic concept of 3D printing is now available to everyone as the technology has blossomed into a full-scale revolution.
Personal technology is at a peak, with any given smartphone today featuring more memory, processing power and storage capacity than the Apollo Guidance Computer used by the team who sent mankind to the moon in 1969. That computer had 64 kilobytes of memory and a 0.043 Mhz CPU.
As times have changed and technology has evolved, there have been more space age concepts brought to life at home and at work. We have networked homes with control systems we can access while on vacation, security systems once reserved for the likes of the White House, and global positioning systems which can pinpoint our location within a few meters, and intelligently route us to our travel destinations.
However, no example of futuristic technology made available to average citizens is more compelling or far-reaching than that of 3D printing, a concept which has blossomed into a full-scale revolution within a few short years. In fact, a research firm called Strategy Analytics projects that home 3D printing alone could become a $70 billion per-year industry by 2030.
Because of the far-reaching potential of 3D printing, TechRepublic's premium content sister site, Tech Pro Research, is conducting a survey to find out who is using this technology, and who is not. And for those using it, what they hope to accomplish with it. Please take a few minutes to take the survey and share your thoughts on 3D printing. You'll have the option to enter your email address at the end of the survey to request a free copy of the resulting report, which is normally only available to Tech Pro Research subscribers.
How 3D printers work
For those unfamiliar with the technology, 3D printers take the printing process to a new level. Using plastic, nylon, polyester, metal alloys or other compounds, 3D printers create objects with both form and function; things that really work, rather than just mockups or dummy replicas. A famous example is a wrench, but a tremendous array of diverse items have been created via 3D printing, including toys, artwork, chocolate designs, clothing, guitars, prosthetic limbs and race cars. It's possible to create medical-related objects; 3D printing has produced a splint to help a child breathe, a foot to help a duckling walk and a jawbone to help an elderly woman chew and speak. Human organs have even been created using 3D printers called "bioprinters" that build with living cells. One day people may be able to print chemical formulas like medicine, which could be a lifesaving industry in third-world countries short on certain drugs and pharmaceutical products.
The process is officially known as additive or direct digital manufacturing and there are different kinds of 3D printing technologies to get the job done - examples include Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Fused Filament Fabrication, (FFF), Stereolithography (SLA), Digital Light Processing (DLP) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).
For the purpose of our survey, we are focusing on the FDM, FFF, SLA and DLP machines, rather than the higher-end laser sintering or direct metal printing machines.
How 3D printing might disrupt industry
Of social and business significance are the ways in which 3D printing can disrupt new and future industries. Parts manufacturers and the laborers who work for them will undoubtedly be affected by this trend. Lawyers, scientists, research and development personnel will also find their world changing as well. Transportation workers, organ donors, and self-employed entrepreneurs are all clear candidates to see the repercussions of this burgeoning trend - but in the long run just about everyone will feel the results, whether from changed markets or labor environments. Although disruption in areas such as manufacturing, labor, markets and innovation will occur, certain advantages may also be yielded.
Take Tech Pro Research's 3D printing survey
We'd like to hear your views on 3D printing, whether it's in use at your organization, why your company might not see a need for it, what benefits you might find or have observed in it, how you think it will impact your industry and where it might do so in the future. Is your company poised to take advantage of the possibilities or is it not a factor in your business operations?
Editor's note: This survey is now closed.