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The Five Big Trends in 3D Printing That Will Shape the Year Ahead

3Doodled-motorbikeThe International CES Conference has just wrapped up this year and 3D Printers played a huge role in making that conference successful. There’s still a lot of hype around these amazing machines, and now it’s looking like 3D printing is becoming a smart investment.

The technology is revolutionizing every industry, allowing people at home and work to customize and create their own products. And, as CES showed, 3D printing innovation is showing no signs of slowing down in 2015. Based on what TechRepublic saw at CES, these are the trends to watch in 3D printing this year.

1. Simpler Design Software: Almost every 3D printing vendor at CES was showing off how their software works. Through the end of 2014, the main hurdle 3D printing needed to jump to become mainstream was software. The learning curve is just too steep for most people—it’s designed for engineers. This year, though, many different companies are making solutions for that.

For instance, Matter and Form is a crowdfunded portable scanner that allows designs to be uploaded to any desktop 3D printer model. The company, which is only about a year and a half old, is also launching Cashew 3D, their version of an open source platform for 3D designs.

2. More Materials!! Prior to CES, 3D printers only used plastic filament for “ink,” making it seem like they are only for novelties and toys. But CES kicked off those stereotypes when MakerBot kicked off the conference with this announcement: Starting this year, it will offer spools of PLA composite materials like wood, stone, and metal. 3D Systems is also offering a nylon filament for its desktop 3D printers, and other startups are using carbon fiber and experimenting with metal, ceramic, and more.

With this advent of new materials for home printing, the technology will become even more useful and reach a broader audience beyond makers and hobbyists. With better materials, people can print spare parts, customize things, and create more useful objects.

3. Focus on Small Businesses: Believe it or not, 3D Printers have been around for about thirty years now. They were first built for industrial manufacturing companies and cost thousands of dollars to make. It wasn’t until some businesses came up with the concept of small, compact desktop 3D printers that the industry finally went gangbusters.

This year will be telling for 3D printing, as the technology is targeted toward smaller businesses. Companies like Ultimaker are aiming certain models toward a workplace setting, and new materials to print products with offers a better incentive to make an investment in a printer.

4. Wearables are now Even More Wearable: Right alongside the 3D printing boom was the boom in wearable devices. The main complaint about wearables, however, was that they are bulky and sometimes just downright ugly– especially for women. And that’s where 3D printing is stepping up to make some improvements. Services like 3D Systems and Shapeways are finding ways to customize wearables and turn them into fashionable pieces of jewelry or accessories.

5. 3D Printing in the Classroom: The best news out of CES, we think, is that several companies talked about their plans to take 3D printing into the classroom. Taking 3D printing to the classroom in grade school will continue to be important in coming years because it’s an easy way to integrate STEM subjects into the curriculum, while offering students an artistic outlet.

MakerBot, for example, is putting a lot of resources into its Innovation Centers, which are facilities at universities where there are 30 to 100 MakerBot Replicators and scanners. Another example is the 3Doodler, a crowdfunded 3D printer pen that draws in the air. The company is also aiming a new Kickstarter campaign toward classrooms that want to teach more STEM subjects.

These are all great signs that 2015 will be another huge year for 3D printing and technology in general. We can’t wait to see how the year will unfold for 3D printers and how they will defy even our expectations.

photo credit: 3Doodled black motorbike via the3Doodler.com

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