WHAT? | Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is an alternative method of manufacturing with endless possibilities. While the technology isn’t new, it has begun to take center stage in our lives. The first printer was developed in the mid-1980’s by Chuck Hull, who went on to start the company 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD). Into the 1990’s the technology was still developing and while being revolutionary, wasn’t fully integrated into the manufacturing process at a large scale. Today, 3D printing has made resurgence and it is here to stay. As 3D printing technology improves and evolves, the possibilities seem endless.
HOW? |For those unaware of this recent revolution, 3D printing is a form of manufacturing that produces three dimensional objects from customized CAD (Computer Aided Design) files. Currently, there are printers that can print with a large assortment of polymers and plastics, metal, and even organic material like animal and human cells. To clarify, because items can vary in complexity and material, not all items are created equally. Plastics car parts are much easier to print then a human kidney and depending on the details of each product design, printing time can also vary in length.
WHY? | So what does this all mean? It means that things are about to change. 3D printing is a door that opens up a new frontier of creation.
- 3D printing allows for ultra fast prototyping of new ideas and product designs.
- It breaks down financial barriers and allows for individuals and small companies as well as large corporations to build and create items at a fraction of the cost of large scale production.
- It allows for the manufacturing of customized designs, whereas traditional production requires the building of large groups of identical product in order to reduce costs.
- It allows for very fast and efficient manufacturing, which limits material waste.
3D printing has the power to change everything from consumer and commercial product manufacturing to health care and even space exploration. It has the power to help bridge the gaps of the 1st and 3rd world by changing the way an entire country can build and develop.
WHO? | So who are the keys companies in this industry? Currently there are three main leaders.
- 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) http://www.3dsystems.com/ Consumer and Commercial
- Stratasys (NYSE: SSYS) http://www.stratasys.com/ Consumer and Commercial. Recently acquired “Makerbot”, a desktop 3D printer company.
- Organovo (NYSE: ONVO) http://www.organovo.com/ Bio-Printing of human tissue.
WHEN? |Now! 3D printing is a growing industry with new developments each day. There are a variety of printers and printing capabilities currently on the market and many more under development. There are a variety of materials that can be printed and an endless array of real-world applications.
The Bottom Line: 3D printing is a technology that has the power to change the world by changing how turn ideas into physical realities without being bound by economies of scale.