Although 3D printing technology can be traced back to the 1980s, it's come a long way from simply beig used for rough prototyping. Both startups breaking onto the scene and more established firms are expanding the scope of what 3D printing can be used for, whether it's a company, research institution or an individual looking to get involved.
Here are just some of the innovative 3D printing businesses out there.
Formed in 1989, Stratasys is one of the oldest and largest players in additive manufacturing. Today the company not only produces its own 3D printer range, but also has partnerships in healthcare, aerospace, education, and even helped create the first car built with 3D printed bodywork and windows.
The company has achieved a number of 'firsts' in its time, including the world's first multi-material printer, the first desktop 3D printer, and the first company to produce a thermoplastic material.
In terms of getting the industry to where it is today, Stratasys has been fundamental to the growth and development of 3D printing technology.
Stratasys faces strong competition from Carbon, formerly Carbon3D.
This darling of the printing industry was the first company to make use of Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) with its M1 3D printer. While traditional additive processes usually have a tradeoff between surface finishes and mechanical functions depending on their purpose, CLIP is the first process to perfect both by creating objects from a liquid bath.
CLIP is a photochemical process that uses light and oxygen to rapidly produce parts from a resin pool. The effect gives the impression that the object is being lifted out of the resin instead of being built up layer by layer, the standard process in other 3D printers.
An 11 hour process using traditional 3D printing technology could take as little as six and a half minutes using CLIP.
Made in Space
As its name suggests, this startup was the first company to develop 3D printing technology capable of operating within zero gravity, providing additive manufacturing on board the International Space Station (ISS).
Designed and purpose built for NASA, the Zero-Gravity 3D printer is able to filter out toxic gases and nanoparticles to protect the integrity of the manufacturing process. This essentially turns the ISS into an orbiting manufacturing plant, and opens up a wealth of opportunities for future space exploration. Since launching last year (if you'll pardon the pun), 67 parts have been printed off-world.
Not only does this allow the ISS crew to produce replace parts or fix faulty equipment, it cuts down on the staggeringly high costs of sending supply runs from earth.
Not only was this leading 3D printing company one of the first to create a printer suitable for the mass market, it is also at the forefront of innovating with new materials.
At CES 2017 the company unveiled Form X, a new platform designed to put the latest materials and research tools into the hands of industry experts. As the first experimental products of this new initiative, FormLabs introduced new ceramic and grey resins to its expanding list of materials.
These resins are capable of producing prints that look and feel remarkably like ceramic objects, and are strong enough to be fired and glazed.
These new tools join an existing library of materials, including resins for dentistry, clear glass-like polymers, and a range of durable resins designed for engineering projects.
This French-based online printing platform provides a means for 3D printing enthusiasts to offer their services to the general public. The service caters not only for smaller personal projects, but also professional work on a large scale.
The company, which is essentially the AirBnB of 3D printing, announced recently it would be expanding its platform to the UK market, turning a fairly expensive technology into an accessible and affordable resource.
3D printers joining up as providers are able to 'bid' on projects that often have specific requirements and a need for certain expertise. The platform not only caters for your printing needs, but also helps you design and model solutions.
When you think of 3D printing you may imagine toys, ornaments, or replacement parts, but one startup is exploiting the on-demand nature of the technology to revolutionise our relationship with food.
Food Ink, headquartered in the Netherlands, has perfected the first 3D printed dining experience, including everything from the food you eat to the furniture you sit on. Food is created using a paste from edible toner, that can then be shaped into a pattern or structure.
A quote from its website reads: "The goal of Food Ink is to use the universal language of food as a fun and accessible way to promote awareness about the amazing possibilities of 3D-printing and other promising new technologies."
Following some successful trials in London, the company is currently on a 2017 world tour, providing a nine-course gourmet experience through a one of a kind 'pop-up' style restaurant.