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How Additive Manufacturing is Changing the World’s Biggest Industries (For the Better)

Steve Prahalis, Chief Operating Officer, SME

Medical researchers use it to replicate life-threatening tumors.
Computer engineers use it to create fully functioning circuit boards.
Astronauts use it to produce vital parts aboard the International Space Station.

"It" is Additive Manufacturing (AM), and over the past decade the technology has steadily and consistently evolved to influence and impact countless industries worldwide.

Thanks to an incredibly innovative and collaborative community, and in part to industry events like RAPID + TCT, which will take place in Chicago from September 13-15, the market for 3D printing continues to grow as more organizations learn about the benefits of this groundbreaking design and manufacturing technology.

Aerospace & Defense

One of the earliest adopters of AM, the aerospace and defense (A&D) industry has long relied on 3D technologies to produce stronger, lighter, and more cost-efficient parts for airplanes and spacecraft—all while achieving rigorous quality and safety requirements.

Today, 3D-printed parts are used in a variety of commercial, industrial and military A&D applications including air ducts, wall panels, seat frameworks and engine components.

Even space agencies like NASA use AM techniques to build rocket engines, create parts for long-duration missions and achieve low-mass, high-precision pointing that conventional fabrication can’t replicate. Additionally, 3D technology carries unbound potential for deep space exploration, particularly in creating components and tools for missions to Mars.

Driven by better fuel efficiency, massive long-term savings and more, aerospace companies like Boeing invest millions into additive technologies annually, and speak at conferences like RAPID + TCT about the challenges and opportunities solved by 3D printing.

By 2026, the AM market for the A&D industry is expected to reach almost $7 billion, representing between 15-20% of the entire AM market.


AM has always had a role in medical, surgical and dental manufacturing, but the COVID-19 pandemic thrust the technology’s true production capabilities into the spotlight. The versatility and power of today’s 3D printers make it the perfect rapid response to emergencies.

The broad spectrum of AM applications in the fight against the virus has included PPE, testing devices, ventilator parts, emergency dwellings and more. Even amidst severe supply chain disruption, vital medical tools and complex components were manufactured on-demand, with providers uploading their designs to the web for easy access by others for use around the world.

The increasing biocompatibility of AM materials is also playing a key role in medical research. Most recently, a team of researchers in the Middle East successfully used AM to recreate a tumor found in brain cancer—using the patient’s own cells—allowing them to find the best treatment available

With the nascent rise of Healthcare 4.0 and point-of-care AM, we’re at the ground floor of possible use cases for the healthcare industry—for example, the creation of porous geometries that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

The AM market in the industry is expected to grow to just over $6 billion by 2028. With the industry quickly incorporating 3D printing as a standard process, RAPID + TCT has dedicated a full conference track during the 2021 event to the future of healthcare applications.


Technology and innovation have been synonymous for decades, but the need for speed has put AM in the driver’s seat when it comes to prototyping and production. Utilizing an ever-expanding array of materials, AM can be used to create fully functioning conductors, resistors, antennas, sensors, casings and much more.

3D technologies offer cost efficiency, quicker time to market, intricate part design and customizable solutions, making them increasingly relied upon by electronics, robotics and computing companies pursuing aggressive growth strategies.

In the past two years, organizations across industries experienced a worldwide semiconductor chip shortage brought on by the pandemic, resulting in delayed or scaled-back production. The solution? AM. 3D printing techniques such as wafer table thermal management for chip lithography are being used to enhance supply chain resilience and eliminate constraints inherent in legacy machining and parts production methods.

For an industry always seeking the next big thing, 3D technologies can make a sizable difference regardless of size. From startups to enterprise, AM is a viable solution for high-tech, function-critical applications.

Register for RAPID + TCT 2021

As North America’s largest and most influential additive manufacturing event, RAPID + TCT attracts thousands of industry leaders representing some of the world’s biggest companies.

Register for the 2021 event here, and use the promo code RP21EXPO100 to receive a FREE Expo Pass providing access to all exhibits, special presentations, keynotes, thought leadership panels and more.