Medical applications are making the most of 3D printing (3DP) with the technology almost mainstream in the sector.
According to research firm Gartner, 3DP of medical devices has reached the peak of inflated expectations, but several specialist apps are already becoming the norm in medical care.
Gartner research director Pete Basiliere said: "In the healthcare industry, 3DP is already in mainstream use to produce medical items that need to be tailored to individuals, such as hearing aids and dental devices.
"All the major hearing aid manufacturers now offer devices that are personalised to the shape of the customer’s ear. This is evidence that using 3DP for mass customisation of consumer goods is now viable, especially given that the transition from traditional manufacturing in this market took less than two years.
"Routine use of 3DP for dental implants is also not far from this level of market maturity."
Three 3D hip replacements were reported to be undertaken in England last year.
With 3D hip and knee replacements, and common internal and external medical devices expected to become mainstream in two to five years, the next advancement will be into 3D bioprinting in the next five to 10 years.
The Hype Cycle prepared by Gartner envisages two categories of 3D bioprinting: one focused on producing living tissues for human transplant, and the other for research and development in life sciences.
Even outside the medical applications, 3DP is rapidly expanding to various sectors.
It is expected to be joined by other technologies within the next two to five years, accelerating the use of 3DP outside of specialist fields.
"Advancements outside of the actual printers themselves may prove to be the catalyst that brings about widespread adoption.
"Technologies such as 3D scanning, 3D print creation software and 3D printing service bureaus are all maturing quickly, and all — in their own way — have the potential to make high quality 3DP more accessible and affordable," Basiliere added.
3D scanners are also advancing in adoption and declining in price, allowing users to create complex printable models of real-world items without any CAD skills, Gartner said.