What it is: 3D printing company Stratasys has launched BioMimics to create 3D models of lifelike anatomical structures for training physicians and medical testing.
3D printing was all the rage a few years ago because you could create all types of objects using plastic. The huge problem with 3D printers was that they were slow, error-prone, and ultimately not very useful to the average person. After all, what’s the average person going to do with creating plastic objects of cups or pencil holders that look drag in one color with a rough texture of plastic?
3D printing isn’t going to change the world of the ordinary person, but it can change niche markets. One 3D printing company, Stratasys, has targeted the medical profession by creating 3D printed objects that mimic anatomical structures for medical professionals to train on. The idea is to replace actual cadavers with plastic objects instead. Not only can this be reusable with less health concerns, but printing 3D objects of body parts is much simpler and cheaper than finding more cadavers to practice on.
The real market for 3D printers initially will be in niche markets because those markets will be profitable and welcoming. While the average person doesn’t need a 3D printer, niche markets can find a need for 3D printers even if the quality and speed of creating objects is relatively poor for now. As the quality and printing speed increases, then more average people will want to use 3D printers. Until that occurs, perhaps several years from the future, 3D printers will be an interesting technology that hasn’t quite matured yet.
What will help 3D printers will be 3D scanners on smartphones. If you see something you like, scan it with your smartphone and capture the image as a model that you can print in a 3D printer. That way you can create objects simply and quickly, which is another drawback of current 3D printers because you must either design a model yourself (not an easy task) or use an existing model that someone else has created. If you need a custom object, you’ll have to design it yourself, which isn’t easy.
Apple has been rumored to be experimenting with 3D printers but because the market is still weak for the average consumer, it’s likely we won’t see a 3D printer from Apple for years. However, watch the camera and sensors in the iPhone to get a clue on the future of 3D scanning. Already the iPhone X cameras can use facial recognition to identify a 3-dimensional image of a face. Those same sensors can later be used to scan 3D objects and save them as models for 3D printing later.
Technology moves in fits and starts, and 3D printing its one example of technology that’s still maturing. It will get there eventually, but it’s not here yet. Until then, keep watching the scanning abilities of the iPhone to get a clue how close 3D printing and scanning will be.