3D Printing in 2020

Thursday, 04 February 2021 18:24

In 2020, 3D printing persistently advanced its path towards industrialization and innovation. The developments that pushed 3D printing to where it is today will continue further into 2021, indicating that new projects will surge, technological necessities will need to be satisfied, and new challenges will need to be overcome, all bringing forward new applications for 3D printers and expanding towards new horizons.

Let’s go through what the 2020 brought to the 3D printing world and what it implies for the future.

3D printing during the pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic brought challenges to almost every single country, the most difficult where how to manage and stop the spread of the virus and how to get enough medical supplies (valves for reanimation devices, etc.), we saw a fast response of the global 3D printing community aiding to these specific problems.

Ventilator valves where really scarce during the COVID19 outbreak, and thus the 3D community ran to model and print working prototypes to be used in hospitals. (REUTERS)

The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in a significant shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) worldwide. Professional additive manufacturing providers, makers, and designers in the 3-dimensional (3D) printing community have posted free COVID-19–related 3D printer designs on their websites.

In reaction to the acute shortage of protective wear for medical personnel during the pandemic situation, professional additive manufacturing providers, makers, and designers in the 3D printing community quickly developed and mass-produced protective face shields.

Prusa3D came out with a final design called Prusa PRO Face Shield, which meets the standard of EN 166:2001 for protection against drops and sprays (protection class 3) . (

3D printing communities across the world became a massive driving force in the effort to produce protective wear for those, who need it the most. (

Development for 3D printed structure on the Moon

ICON is a company that has won NASAS 3D printed habitat challenge, and has become the selected to develop a fully operational 3D printer capable of sustaining the harsh conditions of the moon’s surface, this while printing enhanced lunar structures and building a sustainable site for Off-Earth exploration. As part of its Artemis program, NASA is attempting to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, and it has already used 3D printing to develop rocket engine part.

“Building humanity’s first home on another world will be the most ambitious construction project in human history and will push science, engineering, technology, and architecture to literal new heights,” said Jason Ballard, Co-founder and CEO of ICON. (

NASA has pointed that, through the Artemis program, the Moon will be the first Off-Earth site for sustainable surface exploration. Building a sustainable presence on the Moon requires more than rockets. Robust structures will need to be built on the Moon to provide better thermal, radiation, and micrometeorite protection.

Direct-to-Textile 3D Printed Clothing

3D printing continues to offer fashion designers greater freedom in creating complex geometries with fabric, the European Union has funded a research project called Re-FREAM, an effort uniting artists, designers, and scientists as they combine 3D printing and textiles to rethink the manufacturing process of the fashion industry.

The Re-FREAM goal is to develop new concepts for the future of fashion by means of new processes and aesthetics that are inclusive and sustainable.

Stratasys first introduced its PolyJet technology back in January 2020, a technology that creates objects by jetting fine droplets of photopolymers, materials that solidify when exposed to UV light. Last year, Stratasys started working with fashion designers to show their PolyJet direct-to-textile printing technology, from design through to production, demonstrating the possibility for localized manufacturing and mass customization.

PolyJet 3D Printers are scaled to meet diverse needs in capability and production capacity. The printers fall within two groups: single material at a time and multi-material simultaneously. (Stratasys)

This collaboration follows closely not only of their unveiling the new ability to 3D print onto regular textiles, but also onto sustainable fabrics in vivid colors, creating a shimmer effect when the clothing is in motion, while maintaining the comfortability of regular fabric outfits.

Japanese-style kimono designed by Ganit Goldstein using direct-to-textile PolyJet multi-color 3D printing. (Stratasys)

Another advantage of Stratasys PolyJet™ 3D Printers is that they are certified by Pantone, as meeting the PANTONE validated standards of color quality and realism. Backed by this authentication, PolyJet solutions are perfectly aligned to meet the strict requirements of design studios as they match the design-to-manufacturing process.

This validation allows for simple and accurate color communication between designers and manufacturers. (

High-volume 3D printing is around the corner

At the moment, 3D printing is generally viewed as a technology suitable for low level to mid-volume production. That it will most likely be the case in 2021, but every year we also see more opportunities and developments that will help us achieve higher-volume production with 3D printing.

Conveyor belt 3D printers, have max printing size limitations on X-Y axis but with a theoretically infinite sized z-axis print size or even a continuous production of 3D printed parts, the limitation of this technology is its speed and supported materials, thus not a viable alternative for High-volume 3D printing.

Continuous production of 3D printed parts is a possibility with this technology, it isn’t required that all the printed parts are of the same model. (Blackbelt3D)

Another approach to achieve a high-volume production of 3D printed parts is deploying hundreds of 3D printers and making a Printing Farm, large scale 3D printing is generally less expensive than injection molding below an average of 50000 units/parts, the downside of this continues to be the manufacturing speed (of each 3D printer) and the increase in control required for all the deployed printers, this to ensure quality and reduction of errors.

The whole point of a 3D printing farm: On-demand, efficient manufacturing. (

On the long run, the on demand nature of additive manufacturing can make production cheaper than other large volume processes, it even has the advantage of customization and personalized production batches, as each printer can lay-out different 3D models, another advantage is the no tooling costs involved, meaning products are brought to market at a much faster rate.

3D printing definitely has its own market and with time, people are more and more willing to invest in a printer so they can print anything at home like a regular 2D printer. Also, there are some good competitive prices out there and nowadays buying one is more accessible and cheaper than some years ago.

3D printers were really impressive since their beginning, but not everything was perfect, and 3D printed pieces had a lot of improvements in order to function well and deliver reasonable printing parts. In the present, prints have a lot to improve when it comes to quality, but the truth is that the most inconvenient issues are printing timings and that is because they are way too prolonged and some prints could even take more than 24 hours to be ready so obviously this has been one thing to keep in mind before you even consider to print something.

3D printing sample at APPPEXPO 2018 in Shanghai, FLAAR-REPORTS archive

3D printers normally start to print from the bottom of the object and they start adding a layer at a time as they prin. When objects are irregular at the top or any other area needs it, the printer and the software add support material to these parts and it can easily be removed and thrown away after the print is ready. Creating this support material makes a print to take much more time than having the printer print just the piece itself. So it is more costly and time-consuming, especially for metal or any other material besides plastic.

Luckily for us, two researchers at Penn State have created a new system that reduces the amount of support material needed on each print by having a system with five axes instead of just having the typical x, y, and z.

3D printing sample at APPPEXPO 2018 in Shanghai, FLAAR-REPORTS archive

Xinyi Xiaoa and Sanjay Joshi proposed in a paper called “Process planning for five-acid support free additive manufacturing,” using a 3D printing with a movable build plate or extrusion arm to create objects in 3D space as they are printed, therefore making each surface flat while it is been extruded.

Screenshot courtesy of Penn State University

“Using a five-axis deposition machine has the potential to build structures without the need for supports,” the researchers wrote. “However, there is a lack of automated process planning software to support the full use of five-axis machines. [We introduce] an automated method that allows reorienting the part during the build using a five-axis machine.”

The main idea is that this process could cut objects into separate pieces that must be printed on a different axis, so prints won't need support material and therefore can be produced faster. For example, in the image below the software cuts the rabbit into 4 pieces dividing it into different axis.

Screenshot courtesy of Pennsylvania State University

On the other hand, if you print the rabbit on a regular 3D printer, it probably would be completely covered by support material and some parts would have difficulty being removed entirely.

Screenshot courtesy of Instructables In-House Art

“Large metal components, using traditional additive manufacturing, can take days and waste lots of materials by using support structures,” said the creators. “Additive manufacturing is very powerful, and it can make a lot of things due to its flexibility; however, it also has its disadvantages. There is still more work to do.”

Right now there aren’t many 5-axis printers available in the market and definitely not for home printers, but imagine having to say goodbye forever to the annoying process of removing support material… I bet many people would be pleased.

Kodak and Europe will partner for the latter to distribute Kodak’s KODACOLOR EDTG Series Direct to Garment (DTG) inks.

These inks were specifically designed for direct-to-fabric printing on cotton, cotton blends, and polyester fabrics, both for finished garments or roll fabrics.

“With Kodak’s focus on quality, all KODACOLOR inks are manufactured at our USA-based ISO 9000-compliant factory,” says Grant French, Director External Ink Sales, Eastman Kodak.

Esko announced the release of its VariAngle tool for the Kongsberg C and XP wide-format routers. VariAngle allows high speed cutting at any angle from 0o and 60o, for total freedom of the design.

“Fitting the new VariAngle tool makes existing Kongsberg C and XP tables completely self-sufficient and capable of delivering most any creative design,” said Digital Finishing Product Manager, Knut Johansen. “Unlike with other brands of finishing table, using VariAngle removes the need to stop production when changing tools, drastically reducing setup time and increasing cutting speed. “Other finishing tables cut with a fixed angle blade, which means it’s necessary to change tools to cut at different angles,” explained Knut. “For some designs, three or even four different cutting tools can be required in the production process. But with VariAngle, Esko has developed a single tool which cuts straight lines at any angle selection in half-degree increments between 0o and 60o and at up to 100m/min; a breakthrough innovation for the industry.

Nazdar released a white paper to introduce IMAGE, a new process for generating color profiles that predicts how outdoor inkjet prints will age, and released a white paper explaining the process.

Nazdar has many years of experience in monitoring the behavior of prints, this, combined with the vast amount of industry data on weathering helped develop this method.

"Weathering prediction processes have been developed over many years, but with inkjet printing gaining popularity in the production of outdoor-durable displays we need to update our approach," says Bruce. "In our latest white paper we outline IMAGE, a new process for generating color profiles that can help graphics businesses design, sell and maintain graphics that will look better for longer."

This is Epson’s first UV flatbed printer designed for printing outdoor signage, promotional goods and more. It can print onto a variety of rigid substrates up to 3-inches thick using UltraChrome UV inks with 10 colors (including vivid red, gray, opaque white, and varnish).

Epson SureColor V700 includes these features:

  • pin registration system for quick loading and easy media alignment
  • multi-zone vacuum system to keep materials securely in place
  • automatic thickness adjustment to instantly accommodate media up to 3-inches thick
  • the new Epson Edge Print workflow software featuring an Adobe PostScript 3 engine for layout and print management, color management and seamless workflow integration.
  • “The SureColor V7000 was specifically designed to address common pain points of flatbed printer customers – quality, productivity and price – and allow print service providers to expand their business offerings with an affordable solution,” said Matt McCausland, senior product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America, Inc. “The new UV flatbed printer offers high-end printing technologies, with a unique Red ink never before seen in an entry-level flatbed printer and provides an easy and cost-effective option for print shops looking to expand from roll-to-roll printing to flatbed printing.”

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