For 2017, we’ll also be taking a look ahead, as this year has been filled not only with commercialization and implementation, but introductions of what is to come. An undeniable theme of the year has been maturation in the additive manufacturing industry, and we have been travelling more than ever before to experience as much as possible first-hand. We’ve been tracking major hardware developments across 2017, as well as keeping tabs on what our readers consider the all-time most significant 3D printed objects to have been made, as well as what we thought they are. With ongoing growth in absolute terms in revenues, sales, and participation in 3D printing, the industry is growing up, particularly in terms of professional adoption and scientific developments. Many of the announcements made this year were highly anticipated as in-development technologies made their way onto the market; many others contained introductions of products yet to make it to market that will carry some weight of impact.
For our look at 17 top themes of ’17, we’ll be looking first at 10 top developments and areas of focus that came to fruition this year, followed by 7 announcements of what we can anticipate in the near- to intermediate-term future. These are in no particular order, and please note these are not ‘the top 17′ stories as a conclusive, comprehensive list that would be subjective at best anyway, but are 17 especially impactful areas of an unprecedented year in 3D printing growth.
1. Innovation in open materials
On the industrial side, HP continued to up its focus on its innovative open materials platform for Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology, working with top global chemical companies and industry partners to create and offer best-in-class materials. On the extrusion side, we saw the announcement of the world’s first open source filament from IC3D and Aleph Objects, which may not have kicked up a lot of dust in 2017 but has major implications in and makes a big statement for the open source ethos.
2. Return to a focus on prototyping
A major theme seen early in the year and especially showcased at SOLIDWORKS World 2017, rapid prototyping is the once and future application for 3D printing. While many are driving home the message that additive manufacturing can be used for final part production — and, increasingly, it can — prototyping remains a critical part of the manufacturing process, and 3D printing retains great value here. Stratasys’ February introduction of its F123 series of 3D printers underscored a major release targeting prototyping, and has been paying off as company executives have told us that this is their biggest seller ever.
3. Rising focus on end-part production
Advances in the quality of available materials and hardware, along with increasingly sophisticated software and rising efforts in training, are making possible additive manufacture of end-use parts and products. Constraints in timing and cost still largely restrict this application to low-volume, high-end, or customized products in the near term, but increasing efforts across the industry are focusing on scale production. Metals and polymers alike are seeing advances here, including for demanding applications in aerospace and medical verticals.
From materials partnerships designed to change the physics of 3D printing to full keynotes and presentations focusing on co-creation at Materialise World Summit, collaboration is an undeniable force in the 3D printing industry. While competition remains healthy in the growing industry, working with complementary technologies and with like-minded partners is ultimately critical to the success of additive manufacturing itself as a real-world technology. No one company, material, technology, or application will be able to ‘do it all’, and as more companies have realized the importance of working with the best partners, 2017 has seen an ever-growing list of signatures on new partnership agreements.