Watch for news about 3-D printing during the year ahead.
The process, also known as additive manufacturing, is an up and comer.
By now, the technology has reached pop culture, said Donovan Weber, chief operating officer of Forecast3D, a 104-employee business based in Carlsbad. People are fascinated with stories about custom-made prosthetic legs for dogs, he said.
The additive manufacturing process is kind of like a glue gun paired with an inkjet printer. A printer squirts a dab of material into a position as directed by a computer, then adds material beside it — side to side and up and down.
Once it’s done with the X and Y axis, the printer adds material on the next level up. The process repeats until the printer has produced a full, three-dimensional object.
Privately held Forecast 3D, which specializes in limited-run components, has 19 additive manufacturing machines working in five processes. It also has eight computer numerical-controlled lathes. The latter is older technology which can mill objects from blocks of aluminum or similar material.
One San Diego startup trying to establishing itself in the 3-D printing space is AstroPrint, part of the EvoNexus pro-bono technology incubator. The company produces easy-to-use software to operate 3-D printers, which can be challenging to figure out.
Meanwhile, Kinpo Group, a Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer, is bringing its daVinci line of easy-to-use 3-D printers to the U.S. consumer market through an office on Sorrento Mesa. Kinpo’s brand for its 3-D printers is XYZprinting.
Technology publisher Gartner Inc. measures the progress of new technologies with what it calls the “Hype Cycle.” Before they reach the mainstream, technologies go through a period of inflated expectations before people dismiss them as hype. As more time goes by, expectations for a technology gradually rise and the technology goes mainstream.
Three-D printing for prototyping is reaching the mainstream market now, Gartner says.
As of July, when Gartner released its study, 3-D printing of medical devices had hit its hype peak and is set for a decline. The technology ought to be ready for prime time in two to five years.
Gartner analysts say expectations are rising for technologies such as 3-D printing in the supply chain, industrial 3-D printing, retail 3-D printing and 3-D bio-printing for life science research and development. All will probably be mainstream in five or more years.
In the long term (more than 10 years), Gartner sees 3-D printing in the classroom as well as what the analysts call “macro 3-D printing.”