America 2.0 Explained: 3D Printing
3D printing is a new technology that builds three-dimensional objects from computer-aided designs, often in a layer-by-layer process.
For many industries, it is vastly superior to conventional manufacturing techniques — casting, machining or forging — where materials are poured into molds, cut to shape with lathes and other machines, or formed through presses, die-cast machines or hammers.
The latest 3D-printing technology is cheaper and more efficient for many manufacturers to use than traditional industrial processes, which is why this mega tech trend has taken off. Paul Mampilly has hailed 3D printing as perhaps the most exciting and promising technology to emerge in the digital era.
It has also become a hugely profitable investment for individuals who were early adopters, buying into companies who have embraced and advanced the technology.
What is 3D Printing?
The term “3D printing” actually refers to a variety of processes, and includes anything that uses computer software to design a real-world product that is then printed using plastic, metal, biological tissues or other materials.
Researchers have experimented with 3D printing since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until a Colorado physical engineer named Chuck Hull refined and patented his process that really took off.
Hull, widely hailed as the father of 3D printing, created the first prototype three-dimensional printer in 1983 when he was working for a small table-coating business that used ultraviolet (UV) lamps.
He used the UV tech to quickly turn computer designs into working prototypes, leading to an early form of 3D-printing technology he called “stereolithography.”
In the 1980s and 90s, 3D printing was primarily used to create early versions of demo printers designed merely to show what they might be able to do.
Then, about a decade ago, 3D printing started making major headlines.
That media hype led to a renewed interest in the tech as a new breed of 3D printers promised to move beyond prototypes to the next stage for a range of industries.
But like many new technologies, 3D printing was overhyped at the time. In 2009, for instance, when the first home 3D printer came out, news articles trumpeted the idea of a “factory in every home.”
But those early machines were little more than novelties that printed plastic toys and other items that were more educational than functional.
As a result, the first iterations of 3D printing earned the tech a disappointing reputation and lowered expectations early on.
From there, the industry’s revenue growth was slow, rising from $1 billion in 2009 to just $2 billion in 2014.
But soon, the sector’s most innovative companies invested in research and development, which expanded 3D printing’s efficiency, reach and value.
And by 2017, the industry’s revenues rose again — growing by at least 10% a year. 3D printing’s latest practical uses are more amazing than anyone imagined a decade ago.
The new breed of 3D-printing tech is poised to disrupt virtually every major industry that makes up America’s $2.2 trillion manufacturing base.
Today, 3D printing is poised for a breakout, and that 10% annual growth will look like peanuts compared to the next few years.
What’s Driving 3D Printing?
There are four key drivers of 3D printing’s rebound — which Mampilly predicts will take the tech beyond its overhyped beginnings to true stardom.
- Costs have plummeted: In 2010, a 3D-printing machine cost over $20,000. By 2018, some printers had dropped to under $500. Today, some models can be found for as little as $200 to $300.
- Machines are more efficient: 3D printing’s improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Blueprints used to be required for complex modeling and scanning, but that’s no longer the case. Now, a machine can print your project right from the computer, fast-tracking the time and effort it takes for printing a product.
- More printing materials: Not long ago, you could only use plastic for 3D printing. But huge advances in 3D printing have allowed companies to use wood, metal, stone and even produce products made from multiple materials at once.
- More product variety: Some products made by 3D printers today couldn’t have even been imagined by early developers of the technology.
3D printing is one of the key technologies transforming U.S. manufacturing. America is once again becoming a nation that makes things, bringing back manufacturing from overseas. Through America 2.0, we’ll see 3D-printed products become better quality and cheaper for consumers and manufacturers.
What Are Some Examples of 3D-Printed Products?
Chances are that you’ve used 3D-printed products or items produced using the tech, but you just might not know it. Those sneakers you wore to the gym, the braces your kids’ or grandkids’ wear, your dental implants, the car you drive, to the plane you took on your last vacation and even the food you eat could have been 3D printed! Here are just a few groundbreaking 3D-printing applications already in use today:
- Creating new titanium discs for spinal injury and transplant patients. For the tens of millions of Americans suffering from herniated discs and other spine injuries, this advancement makes surgeries more affordable and successful.
- A huge expansion in “bio-printing” hearts, kidneys and other body parts using “bio-ink” made of human tissues and cells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the first 3D-printed anti-seizure drug, Spritam.
- Factory floors once filled with clunky heavy machinery are switching to lightweight and less-expensive 3D printers instead. This means 3D printing airplanes, spacecraft, durable goods, consumer products and modular housing will soon become more common.
- Metal 3D printers are mass producing next-level suspension and safety parts for European and American car companies.
- People are using 3D printing to create everything from jewelry to clothing to sporting equipment to fine art to razor blades and even baked goods.
3D printing taking off is incredible news for both manufacturers and consumers because of the life-changing innovations it will bring.
But it’s also great news for savvy investors who get in on the trend now — before Wall Street catches on to this superstar sector in the making.
And that’s just a sampling of the products 3D printers produce that will help drive America 2.0 as the technology fuels the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Which Companies Are at the Center of 3D Printing and Why?
Today, Chuck Hull’s 3D Systems is a leading provider of 3D content-to-print solutions, services and products. It’s a global company that develops, manufactures and markets 3D printers, materials, software, devices, scanners, virtual surgical simulators, on-demand custom parts and other products and services.
Its 3D printers convert data from computer-aided software and sculpting devices to produce physical objects from engineered plastic, metals, ceramics and edibles.
Other 3D-printing leaders include:
- Formlabs Inc.
- Stratasys Ltd.
- Desktop Metal Inc.
- Carbon Inc.
What Are the Global Market Projections for 3D-Printing Technology?
The 3D-printing industry will soar more than 300% over the next five years, becoming a $44.4 billion industry by 2025.
That’s up from $4.4 billion just six years ago and $10.87 billion in 2018 — a leap of more than 900% since 2013.