From toys to human organs – the diversified world of 3D printing

Today, 3D printing is considered as a disruptive technology that has the potential to radically change the way we produce and consume

The term "3D printing", also known as additive manufacturing, originally referred to a process that deposits a binder material onto a powder bed with inkjet printer heads layer by layer. Recently, it has been used increasingly to include a broader set of additive manufacturing techniques, such as directed energy deposition, material extrusion, material jetting, powder bed fusion, sheet lamination and photopolymerization.

Place the thin strip over the car battery and see remaining charge (Photo: Vivainnova)
Place the thin strip over the car battery and see remaining charge (Photo: Vivainnova)

3D printers range from small table units to room-size equipment and can handle simple plastics, metals, biomaterials, concrete or a mix of materials. They can produce objects as diverse as toys, aircraft engine components or human organs.

Disrupting the manufacturing landscape

3D printing will have a profound impact on the business models, value chains and economics of global manufacturing. It makes possible the fabrication of customized and individual objects, in completely new business environments and potentially at home at some point in the future. It also opens up new opportunities for producing, in a cost-effective way, devices and components that cannot be manufactured efficiently using traditional techniques.

This change of paradigm also raises significant challenges, such as how intellectual property and copyright will be handled if any of us has easy access to 3D printing capabilities with object models circulating freely on the internet.

The key role of international standards

International standards play an important role in developing the additive manufacturing market. Besides standards for hardware and processes, information technology constitutes an essential element in the overall standardization value chain.

The data that drive a 3D printer can be generated either by a computer aided design (CAD) system, or a 3D scanner, or both. Their format must be interpretable by a machine and they need to be stored, exchanged, indexed and secured.

Protecting data integrity is also critical when manufacturing safety or mission-critical devices or components. IEC and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) established ISO/IEC JTC 1: Information technology, a joint technical committee which produces International Standards for information and communication technologies (ICT) for business and consumer applications.

Next steps – ISO/IEC JTC 1 study group to assess 3D printing and standardization

ISO/IEC JTC 1 is currently investigating which IT-related Standards will be required to support the development of 3D printing and 3D scanning and has created a study group on 3D printing and scanning (ISO/IEC JTC 1/SG 3).

The Group is led by Byoung Nam Lee, an expert in ICT/telecommunications standardization strategy and special fellow and principal researcher at the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) in Korea. Lee has participated in the ISO/IEC JTC 1 plenary and its advisory group (JAG) since 2010. In 2016, he served as Convenor of the JAG group for 3D printing and scanning. He also received the IEC 1906 Award in 2014 for his activities in IEC TC 47 for semiconductor devices.

Comprised of a broad range of international 3D printing and scanning experts, the group’s mission is to develop a comprehensive report for the upcoming ISO/IEC JTC 1 plenary in October 2017. This will include:

  • description of key concepts
  • overview of current technology and market trends
  • assessment of the current state of 3D printing and scanning standardization
  • recommendations for next steps

ISO/IEC JTC 1 hopes to use the report to leverage these opportunities and become a driver in 3D printing and scanning standardization.

Broad scope of IEC work for 3D printing

Many IEC technical committees (TCs) are already involved in 3D printing, whether as suppliers of Standards used in printers or scanners, or as users of additive manufacturing Standards that are foreseen to play an important role in their domains of activities. Examples include, but are not limited to:

Close cooperation between IEC technical committees and any future ISO/IEC JTC 1 group considering taking over responsibility for 3D printing and scanning standardization, would be strongly encouraged.