3D printing has grown eight times faster than the average of all technologies in the last decade, data from the European Patent Office (EPO) has revealed.
Also called additive manufacturing, 3D printing has a wide array of applications, and has been recently used to create an entire building, print lab-grown fish, and even 3D sweets and chocolates in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
With a digital design file, the printers are capable of making three dimensional objects, by laying down layers of material on top of each other.
The EPO is responsible for studying European patent applications, with its examiners analysing and granting European patents to new inventions.
The organisation’s latest report shows how 3D printing has surged in the past decade, with patent families in 3D printing growing at an average rate of 26.3 per cent each year between 2013 and 2020.
An international patent family (IPF) is a collection of patent applications covering the same or similar technical content.
This rate of growth is eight times that of the average of all technology fields combined over the same period.
“With this study, we’re taking a global perspective on the 3D printing revolution using international patent data to report on the scope and implications of this technology trend,” said EPO President António Campinos.
“Europe secured four of the top ten spots for research institutions in additive manufacturing innovation. This bodes well for the future since technical progress in this field often stems from the cutting-edge research in these institutions.”
Europe at the forefront of 3D printing patents
Along with the US, Europe is leading the global race for 3D printing innovation, according to the EPO’s report.
There have been more than 50,000 IPFs for 3D printing technologies filed worldwide since 2001, 39.8 per cent of which came from the US. Europe meanwhile accounts for a 32.9 per cent share.
With these two regions accounting for almost three-quarters of all 3D printing IPFs, Japan, China and South Korea follow with 13.9 per cent, 3.7 per cent, and 3.1 per cent respectively.
In Europe, Germany has emerged as the clear leader with 41 per cent of Europe’s share, followed by France with 12 per cent.
The report also notes how the 3D printing market is becoming much more diverse. Where the main players used to be established engineering companies, many start-ups are now emerging.
While 3D printing can be used in almost any industry, around a fifth of all IPFs published between 2001 and 2020 were in the health and medical sector, with the technology especially useful for patient-specific implants and anatomical models.