3D Printing

10 Reasons to be Bullish About the 3D Printing Industry

Full disclaimer:  I’m bullish about the 3D Printing Industry. There, I said it.

I’m writing in response to the many declarations of “3D printing is hype” that are meandering about the Internet — you’ve probably seen them.

The latest edition of “3D printing is hype” comes from Wall Street Journal writer James R. Haggerty, in 5 Reasons Not to Go Gaga Over 3D Printing.

The article lists current limitations in 3D printing, such as printed component size, printing speed, printing materials development, lagging hardware development, etc. as though we were fixed in time.  To say “You can’t print out a whole car or airplane from today’s machines” is obviously true (although Bastian Schaefer of Airbus believes they might be 3D printing entire airplanes by 2050), but current limitations are just that — current limitations.

When Chuck Hull filed his patent for stereolithography in 1986, the current limitations of the technology at that time couldn’t support a web site for custom parts, rapid prototypes and low-volume production as 3D Systems Inc. has since.  The first rudimentary web page on the public Internet wasn’t published until 1991.

There are other hurdles to overcome such as real-time part qualification of high-grade metal components, but there are no brick walls to stop the progress of the 3D printing industry.

So, in that vein, here are my ‘10 Reasons to be Bullish about the 3D Printing Industry’:

1. The 3D Printing Industry Growth Rate

3D printing has grown at a CAGR 27.4% over the last three years and is projected to double in size between 2013-2015 (Wohlers). I don’t know of any other industries currently experiencing that level of growth.

2. Build Sizes Rapidly Increasing

German 3D printing machine manufacturer voxeljet AG (VJET) recently introduced a “Continuous 3D Printer,” the VXC 800 which has virtually no restrictions on build length (see prior article). Other OEMs are increasing build box spaces with every new iteration of their machines.

3. Faster Printing Speeds

A company at the forefront of faster printing speeds is Arcam AB (AMAVF in the US and ARCM.ST on the Nasdaq OMX). They are the project lead for the Fast EBM (Electron Beam Melting) project now completing their R&D on a project to increase build speeds by a factor of 5X.

4. Rapidly Developing Market for New Materials and Composites

In their Q3 conference call a couple of weeks back, Stratasys reported that a large percentage of the R&D is in the development of new materials. The 3D printing materials market is expected to grow to over $600M by 2025, a figure that accounts for the anti-competitive practices by some OEMs and could go much higher if those practices stop.  More importantly, this figure doesn’t include novel new composite materials currently under development like the work being done by Freespace Composites.

5. Introduction of 3D Printing in Elementary Schools

A Google search of “3D Printing in Elementary Schools“ brings up a multitude of local and national stories of the technology being introduced to kids early on. Moreover, this is a global trend as the UK government is also  boosting funding for 3D printing education as the announcement last month demonstrates.  Some of these kids will grow up to be the next Chuck Hull or the next Scott Crump.  They’ll create, innovate and lead the industry to places we can’t even imagine right now.

6. NASA says: “The Future of Exploration Starts with 3D Printing”

NASA had the following to say about 3D printing in a March 2013 article:
“Traditionally, the forming, machining and welding of this baffle would take nine to ten months. After creating the part using computer-aided design, we built this baffle with SLM in nine days, obviously significant time and cost savings. The lack of a traditional weld also makes this part more structurally sound”, and “The successful J-2X test paves the way for us to design and manufacture more  complex SLM-created parts to be installed on the J-2X and RS-25 engines ultimately providing a significant cost and schedule savings.”

7. GE is Bullish on 3D Printing

General Electric is a major innovator,  supporter and end user of 3D printing.  As one the world’s largest companies, GE now expects 3D printing to be involved in 50% of their manufacturing in some manner within the next 20 years.  CEO Jeffrey Immelt is also bullish on the 3D printing industry in this video

8. Hewlett-Packard is Bullish on 3D Printing

Last month HP announced it is entering the 3D printing market in 2014. CEO Meg Whitman explained why: “3D printing is in its infancy. It is a big opportunity and we are all over it,” and “These businesses go along, get a little traction, go along, get a little more traction, then hit the knee of the curve.” Whitman feels 3D printing’s knee is around three years off. (From Simon Sharwood, The Register)

9. 3D Bioprinting

Breakthrough developments in 3D bioprinting are accelerating.  Last month 3D bioprinting pioneer Orvanovo Holdings (ONVO) announced: “The demonstration of extended function in Organovo’s 3D liver tissues was achieved faster than Organovo’s projected timeline of achieving these results by the end of 2013 and highlights progress in the development of a 3D Human Liver product, which is on track for launch in 2014. Although it won’t happen anytime soon, fully 3D printed human organs might be available for our children or grandchildren.

10. “When America Makes, America Works”

This is the rallying call of America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (formally referred to as NAMII). The growing membership of America Makes forms a kind of cerebral cortex for 3D printing in America.  America Makes states they will: “Embrace innovation from whatever its source as we collectively strive to accelerate the true realization of additive manufacturing through 3D printing.  We are growing the inertia from our incredible first year of activities into a long overdue manufacturing movement because again history has proven that ‘When America Makes, America Works.’”

So there you are: 10 Reasons to be Bullish About the 3D Printing Industry.