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Cheap consumer 3D printers will enter the market
As key patents expire, we expect that 3D printers may follow the route of fused desposition modeling printers, used in the manufacture of thermoplastic products.
When FDM printer patents expired, 3D printing was born from the ashes, and just a few years after patent expiry the price of FDM printers dropped from thousands of dollars to as little as a few hundred.
We expect that the expiry of patents will lead to an open-source revolution in the next few years, and as a rise in competition forms, the price of 3D printers will drop.
At the moment, home printers cost more than a thousand dollars -- such as the MakerBot Replicator Mini, for $1,375 -- but five years ago, they were far too expensive for the average household to consider purchasing.
An additional element is the interest of China in 3D printing. The China 3D Printing Technology Industry Alliance plans to invest $3.3 million in the creation of 3D printing innovation centers in 10 Chinese cities. If the Asian country becomes involved in the manufacture of printers, it is likely that a flood in the European market could further drive down prices.
Image credit: Louis Seigal
3D printing will have its own app store
While Shapeways and Makerbot have already opened digital stores with 3D printed products and schematics respectively -- and it is possible to obtain others from torrents -- the idea is yet to fully take off.
We predict that more of these businesses will open over the next few years. While traditional printers are simply connected to a computer and print off documents, 3D printers are more reliant on core technology and software, and so a few apps to help with 3D modeling have also appeared in the Apple App store, Google Play and Windows Store.
It is likely that as the technology develops in the consumer realm, a dedicated app store will appear, as well as a dominant source for 3D files and schematics.
Image credit: Makerbot
Healthcare will never be the same again
The cheap and lightness of material, as well as the precision of parts made possible through 3D printing software, has already improved reconstructive procedures -- and made it possible for those who have lost limbs to be equipped with prosthetics they may not otherwise have been able to afford or have access to.
In the next five years, we can expect this trend to continue, and perhaps 3D printed parts will become commonplace for the next generation of surgeons.