Catch the Wave…3D Printing

Fast, cheap, and customized manufacturing, construction, and healthcare – here comes 3D printing.

There has been a huge technology wave forming and it’s finally headed to shore. That wave is 3D printing and it’s about to change “everything” – manufacturing, industry, construction, healthcare, education, and more. In the not-too-distant future, many of the things you use every day will be made by 3D printers and in fact you will be able to make things in your office, school, or home.

On a tour of the SpaceX factory floor a few years ago, I saw a large machine and asked the guide what it was for? He said, “oh, that’s a 3D printer.”

Naively, I asked, “why would you need that?” and his reply stopped me in my tracks. He said, “when we get to Mars, we’ll have to make everything” and I thought, “of course!”

Well it won’t just be Martians who will someday be making everything for themselves, it will be us earth-bound citizens as well. If you want it, you’ll just print it. No need to go to the hardware store for a part or a tool. No need to even order your child a toy from Amazon and have it delivered to you by a drone! You can just download a file from the internet and print the item yourself.

Cars, homes, and other capital products will be manufactured using large industrial-grade 3D printers from Stratasys,3D SystemsHP, and others. It sounds like science fiction but much of this has either already been demonstrated or is already happening today. 3D printers are already being used to make almost every hearing aid, certain airplane parts, and models of buildings. They are a standard STEM tool in school “makerlabs” across the country. And the last time I checked, there was even already one for sale at Home Depot.

There is no doubt that this wave is in the early stages of gathering strength. Desktop products are rather primitive (it reminds of the early days in the AV business when integrated projectors just started coming out), materials are fairly limited, parts are rather small, and printing takes a long time. But like every other new technology product, I believe that quality is going to rise and prices are going to drop exponentially in the coming decade, and believe that by 2030 we’ll look back with wonder at a quaint time where we didn’t all use our MakerBot, or similar, 3D printer on a daily basis.