Mr. Li is a researcher at the Institute of Industrial Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
To address the shortage of emergency supplies during the epidemic prevention and control, the United States, Italy and other countries have been using 3D printers to produce respirator parts, personal protective masks, and even created online forums for governments, hospitals and Non-Governmental organizations to publish their needs and for industry insiders to share their experiences.
The role of 3D printing in global epidemic prevention and control reflects the increasing popularity and application of the technology.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is an emerging manufacturing technology based on digital models that stack materials layer by layer to create objects.
In recent years, major countries in the world have increased their support for 3D printing technology, and the global 3D printing industry has developed rapidly.
From children’s toys and crafts to highly complex parts used in airplanes and rockets, 3D printers have been widely used in many fields.
The global 3D printing industry will reach about $12 billion in 2019, up nearly 30% year-on-year.
The rapid development of 3D printing industry is the result of many factors.
First, the increasing investment in RESEARCH and development has led to the continuous improvement of technology. 3D printers are more powerful, cheaper and faster.
Since 2012, the number of PATENT applications in the field of 3D printing has grown rapidly, with an annual growth rate of over 40%.
Second, the variety of printing materials has been constantly enriched, promoting the expansion of the application scope of 3D printers.
The materials used in 3D printing mainly include metal materials, polymer materials and ceramic materials. Plastics are still the most used materials, but metal materials are growing rapidly, with the utilization rate rising to about 36% in 2018.
The extensive use of metal materials has driven the growth of sales of industrial-grade 3D printers and promoted the expansion of 3D printing from the consumer market to the high-end manufacturing market.
Third, in order to speed up product development, improve product performance and increase user demand response speed, automobile, electronics, aerospace, medical treatment and shoe manufacturing industries actively explore the application of 3D printing technology in industrial production.
Fourth, primary and secondary schools and education and training institutions will set up courses related to 3D printing to promote the popularization of desktop 3D printers in schools, families and small and medium-sized enterprises.
3D printing does not require mold opening, integrated molding, short production cycle, especially suitable for the production and rapid delivery of complex structure products, small batch products, so it is widely used in prototyping, custom production and complex parts manufacturing and other fields.
However, 3D printing also has obvious disadvantages: 3D printers have high price, long production time, lack economy of scale, and the production cost of large-scale products is significantly higher than traditional processing methods.
The price of printing materials is relatively high, the types are very limited, the strength of materials, processing precision and other aspects of the traditional precision processing still lag behind.
Generally speaking, 3D printing and traditional manufacturing technology have their own advantages and disadvantages. They are not a substitute relationship, and should play a role in their respective fields in the future.
3D printing is regarded as one of the core technologies leading the new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation, with broad development prospects.
With the development of economy and improvement of living standard, consumers are more in pursuit of personalized demands. 3D printing, together with robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies, will improve the flexibility of manufacturing production lines, produce customized products at lower costs, and promote the transformation of manufacturing production mode from mass production to personalized customization.
At the same time, 3D printing will promote the development of local manufacturing mode by saving storage and logistics cost and responding to local market quickly.
In addition, further promotion of 3D printing education will promote the rise of the maker movement. Home printers and small 3D printing shops will be more popular, and people will be able to make products of their own design.
In the future, with the development of 3D printers, materials and post-processing technologies, the application field of 3D printing will be expanded continuously.