3D printing is a growing global market, particularly in the businesses of healthcare (medical), education, construction, aerospace, and automotive. Both polymer and plastics are utilized in numerous industries, while bio-polymer is not as popularly used. Due to numerous materials abilities to translate across multiple business segments, market segmentation analysis wasn’t possible. However, since these materials (polymer and plastics) are the most commonly used within the aforenoted industries, market segmentation likely applies to them. Below is an overview of the business segments driving growth within the B2B 3D printing market (with healthcare, education, and construction being the top three). I also included a brief list of the industries and how the requested materials play into each.
Healthcare & Medical: polymer and plastics
Education: no limitations
Construction: polymer and plastics
Aerospace: polymer and plastics
Automotive: polymer and plastics
Note: bio-polymer isn't as widely used, and a note about its usage is included at the end of the write-up.
HEALTHCARE AND MEDICAL FIELD
3D printing can be used with various polymer materials in the medical field. These solutions (hydrogel) can be used to preserve living cells, and bone material can be “carried within the hydrogel and printed onto the bone”. Further, the material will act as a “binding agent between bone fragments, facilitating the ingrowth of bone to reconnect previously shattered bone”. Low-melting temperature polymers can be used for skin grafts “due to its ability to facilitate cell growth”. There is still much research to be done as it relates to low-temperature polymers, as a goal is to offer “biodegradable polymers with several molecular weights”. High-temperature polymers (branded name Selective Laser Sintering [SLS]), are most commonly used for “lower-impact implant applications like spinal and maxillofacial”. For hip and knee procedures, metals are used in conjunction with the high-temperature polymers to “insure the implants can endure the frequent impacts and other dynamic loads they will be exposed to”. Resins can be used in the medical and healthcare field as well; however they are most frequently used for “instrumentation and surgical guides”. A material-jetting technology, which is similar to a traditional inkjet printer, can “deposit multiple materials within as single point…which is useful for applications like authentic reproductions of internal organs”. These prints can then be used by surgeons as a practice surgery before working on their live patient. Peter Denmark, sales head of Envisiontec, said that “surgeons are reporting several minutes of savings from the use of surgical guides before entering the OR (operating room)”. This directly leads to efficiency savings, as an hour in the OR “may cost $15,000, and saving just a few minutes” can be crucial. 3D printing can also be beneficial for hospital equipment, such as instruments or hospital room staples. “Powder bed printing is the default printing process for metal medical parts…using either a laser or an Electron Beam (EBM) system”. While Europe and Australia are reporting the highest use of this technology, strides are taking place in the United States “with the FDA’s recent draft guidance to device manufacturers”.
A primary usage of 3D printing in education is through projects in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics), as it helps abstract concepts make more sense to students. With the necessary investment, teachers could have their students “print things and play with them and this might be an enjoyable interesting activity”, however there is hesitation to invest due to limited budgets within schools. Yet, making the technology visible to students could prove to be very beneficial. With so many devices “chip and processor based and enclosed…it is difficult for anyone to understand how your phone works”. With 3D printing, you can understand the device layer by layer. Further, 3D printing usage in the classroom can enable children to understand “teamwork, persevering, and acquiring new skills”, all elements they will encounter in their adult careers. 3D printers can also be beneficial in answering various educational questions for children, such as “Why is math useful?” "What does math do?”. For kinesthetic learners (learn by touch), 3D printing allows them to view complex concepts at a simplified individual layer level. What’s more, 3D printing is extremely beneficial in teaching children about failure. “In a standard classroom, you listen as you are given information…you are tested on that information…you pass or fail or get a grade”. Little feedback is provided on what areas you need to improve, and frequently leads to test-taking anxiety among children, which subsequently translates into their adult careers. With 3D printing demonstrations, you “can prototype, iterate, design and fail all day every day”. By seeing exactly how the project failed, students can learn how to improve the next time around.
3D printing is globally growing in the construction industry. The “most common building materials are wood, concrete, glass, and steel”. With 3D printing, new materials can be introduced, including “mixtures of thicker concrete, and composites that are self-supporting” during the setting process. By quantifying all construction structures with the use of a 3D printer, appropriate materials can be selected to be used on site, reducing “error risk, lowering material waste and human labor costs, and speeding up production”. For example, the Chinese company WinSun “printed ten houses in 24 hours at a cost of less than $5,000 each”. Further, WinSun wants to take 3D printing and apply it to whole city plans, as they are using it to build 100 factories, and want to expand their production to over 20 countries in the next few years. Egypt has already ordered “20,000 single-story buildings to be constructed out of printer ink made from sand”. In the United States and the United Kingdom, governments are striving to use 3D BIM (Building Information Modeling) for all government projects, allowing all parties involved access to the same blueprints, which “eliminates delays, miscommunication, and the likelihood of cost overruns”.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing is used by aerospace engineers for “prototyping, tooling, and part manufacturing” by working with high-performance thermoplastics. Benefits of FDM machines include their ability to “create parts with temperature, chemical, UV, and environmental resistance”, and as a bonus, they absorb no moisture. 3D printing can be used in aerospace for numerous products, including producing plastic CNC parts, which not only perform better and weigh less, but also cut down on production costs, and “provide better electrical insulation”. 3D printing is also useful for testing design problems, and for upgrading materials within the aircraft to make them lighter, and “able to withstand intense heat (flame retardant)".
FDM 3D printing can also be used in the automotive industry, to create models and prototypes, while also creating higher-performing parts. FDM is particularly useful for “hand-held devices used on the assembly line”, as 3D printing engineers have the capability to make tools ergonomically designed to perform better than traditional tools.
Bio-polymers in 3D printing provide limited capabilities compared to polymers and plastics, as their “stable temperature range is limited, and few bio-polymers have moderately high operating temperatures”. However, testing in fused filament fabrication (FFF) is taking place to test the effectiveness of bio-polymers by utilizing their flexible nature.
In all, 3D printing is a booming industry in multiple B2B industries, most notably healthcare & medical, education, and construction. Aerospace and automotive are also utilizing 3D printing to advance their products and mainstream production. The use of polymers and plastics is prominent among all of these industries, while bio-polymers are still being tested to discover their ideal usage in 3D printing.