ACT News


A mini industrial revolution on the way with 3D printing

It is already producing commercial aircraft parts, houses and even human skin for burns victims, but 3D manufacturing is about to boom.

3D printing technology has been around for more than three decades but it is now starting to take off as patents and copyrights expire.

As costs come down and the technology improves, it will have an impact on virtually every industry.

''What you will see in the next year is an absolute explosion in technology; it will be like a mini-industrial revolution,'' Mike de Souza, chief executive of the Australian 3D Manufacturing Association, said.

''We can't even imagine what will happen in the next five years, and it's only limited by your imagination.''

The A3DMA was in Canberra on Tuesday, briefing select people from industry, government and education on the possibilities 3D printing will present in coming years, with the ACT government apparently keen to attract the "light industry" possible with the technology.


''One of the problems is it's so mind-boggling that people …  go 'oh, too much for me, I can't understand that' – like many people did with the internet and computers and mobile telephony years ago, but look at that today; there's nobody in the Western world who doesn't touch that stuff,” Mr de Souza said.  

''[3D printing] will touch every single person that you know in one way or another.''

Mind-boggling it may be, but Mr de Souza explains the concept is relatively simple, with the printer producing and assembling a product at the same time, layer by layer.

''Think about a printer and the ink cartridges … use your imagination to consider that all the different coloured inks are different materials; one might be carbon fibre, one might be stainless steel, one might be some sort of plastic, one might be human body material, and you can actually print in all of those different layers.''

Using a digital template designed from scratch or scanned with a 3D scanner – in the case of replicating bones or teeth as already happens – the possibilities are endless.

But according to an Australian supplier of professional 3D printers, Objective 3D, in the immediate future it will probably thrive in producing customised or small volume parts rather than replace traditional high-volume manufacturing.

''That's a real strength for 3D printing, because you don't get penalised [financially] for complexity and customisation,'' Objective 3D managing director Matt Minio said.

Mr Minio has been involved in 3D printing for a decade, and said the growth in the industry is ''difficult to keep up with''.

''The industry itself has been growing 20-something per cent for the last 20 years on average and last year it grew about 30 per cent, so we're actually seeing a massive spike.''

While ''hobby'' machines are affordable, starting at about $500, Mr Minio said you get what you pay for.

''It will have one material, limited success in printing, the layer resolution and build quality will be quite ordinary, but it produces something,'' he said.

''At a professional level, something that produces repeatable parts every time … at that level, our systems start at around $8000, but I can take you all the way to $800,000.

''We have one 3D printer that prints over 500 different materials on the one machine. I think our nearest rival would print maybe seven or eight.''