3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has come a long way from its roots in the production of simple plastic prototypes. Today, 3-D printers can not only handle materials ranging from titanium to human cartilage but also produce fully functional components, including complex mechanisms, batteries, transistors, and LEDs.
The capabilities of 3-D printing hardware are evolving rapidly, too. They can build larger components and achieve greater precision and finer resolution at higher speeds and lower costs. Together, these advances have brought the technology to a tipping point—it appears ready to emerge from its niche status and become a viable alternative to conventional manufacturing processes in an increasing number of applications. And even 4D-printing already exists, which adds time to the product. This means that the printed product can change of shape for instance by temperature or fluid.