3D Printing: How "Desktop Factories" Will Create the Next $1 Trillion Industry

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Don't worry if you've never heard of 3D printing. It's so new it's not on many radar screens yet.

But soon everyone will know about it.

Still in its very early stages, 3D printing is destined to have a huge impact on the entire world economy.

These "desktop factories" will one day become a $1 trillion industry-completely changing the traditional factory model forever.

It's what's known as a "disruptive technology."

Here's why…

By the end of this decade, everyone from consumers to big businesses to solo inventors will be able to make their own unique products in just a couple of hours.

Need a special tool?… Or a new spare part?

Soon you will be able to fire up the 3D printer and make one from composite materials.

Indeed, I recently watched a YouTube video of Z Corp. making an adjustable wrench from high-tech compounds. It was a copy made from metal.

Though it weighed less than the original, the "printed" wrench worked just as well and looked every bit as strong.

And let's not gloss over the medical products that can be created by these revolutionary printers. An 83-year-old woman in Europe recently received a new jaw doctors printed with titanium powder.

Medical team members said they made the implant in just a few hours compared with the several days usually required with existing methods.

That's why I say this technology symbolizes the Era of Radical Change. Now, anyone who knows computer basics can make or invent products on the fly.

3D Printing: A New Wave of Innovation

Technically, you don't really "print" a new product, though the process is similar. Rather than putting ink on paper, the system creates the product by adding thin layers of special polymers and some metals.

This is literally "cutting edge" high tech that is destined to become big business.

I believe it is the 21st century equivalent of the laser printer and the dawn of desktop publishing in the 1980s that changed the entire print industry.

But don't take my word for it…

Let's hear from Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), the high-tech giant that knows both types of printers extremely well.

The Silicon Valley leader now offers a high-end unit made for professional use. Its DesignJet Color 3D printer reportedly sells for $20,000.

But consider this: 3D printing will soon come to the masses at prices they can afford.

Today, MakerBot sells its Replicator for $1,749. Its users can download free modeling software such as TinkerCAD or Sketchup from Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) to print their own products.

Small-cap leader 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) also recently launched the Cube, a competing device that lists for $1,299. A related website, Cubify.com, combines the simplicity of a coloring book with robust digital resources.

The firm's CEO, Abraham N. Reichental, told BBC news that 3D Systems already has 1,000 workers — and nearly as many patents.

Now just think of what will happen when the price of these machines drops to $500….

We're talking mass customization of a wide range of goods, from forks to jewelry to high-tech ski helmets.

When this happens, 3D printing will undoubtedly unleash a whole new wave of innovation.

And for a very simple reason…

Inventors will be able to use a low-cost 3D printer to truly unleash the power of their imaginations.

When that happens creativity has the potential to increase exponentially.

There will be no more spending thousands of dollars to have a specialty firm make a mold before you can even build the prototype.

3D Printing: Endless Possibilities

Now you know why the top brass at the Smithsonian just gave 3D printing their stamp of approval.

You see, the world's largest museum boasts more than 137 million objects. But only a few remain on display at any point in time.

With 3D printing, officials can scan originals with special software. Then they can "print" replicas they can loan to other museums.

At the very least, the Smithsonian can afford to make digital 3D images of its vast collection it can then store for later access.

According to a recent story by CNET, the museum already touts a 3D printed-replica of a Thomas Jefferson statue, which they say is the "largest 3D printed museum quality historical replica" on earth.

Meanwhile, 3D printing has also created other products with a definite "wow" factor.

Take the case of the two British researchers who printed their own spy plane in a week — it took two days to design on a computer and five days to make.

The small, unmanned plane with a wingspan of about 4.5 feet soared at 100 MPH. You can watch a YouTube video of what's touted as the first flight of its kind here.

The European aerospace giant EADS also uses the technology to make specialty aircraft parts.

They've started with items like brackets that hold parts in place. But their long-term goal is to print the entire wing of a jetliner.

German supplier EOS says it gets parts orders from car and aerospace firms. And also from… dentists.

EOS says it can create up to 450 dental crowns in one day. That compares with about a dozen for most firms using conventional systems.

Not even music is immune to the disruptive impact of 3D printing. Last year, EOS used a specialty compound to make parts for a violin.

A violin maker assembled the parts into a working instrument that was then played by a concert violinist.

Clearly, 3D printing is destined to have a huge impact on the global economy.

I believe it could be worth $1 trillion in as little as a decade.

How is that, you ask?….

It's a matter of simple math.

The global economy measures about $60 trillion. Of that, manufacturing accounts for 17%, or $10.2 trillion.

If 3D printing captures just 10% of the sector that would total just over $1 trillion.

That's why I say we will see lots of opportunities to invest directly in this technology, or in firms using it to improve profit margins.

Either way, it is time to open your eyes to the possibilities of 3D printing.

Otherwise you'll miss the Next Big Thing that will change the future of manufacturing.

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About the Author

Michael A. Robinson is one of the top financial analysts working today. His book "Overdrawn: The Bailout of American Savings" was a prescient look at the anatomy of the nation's S&L crisis, long before the word "bailout" became part of our daily lexicon. He's a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and reporter, lauded by the Columbia Journalism Review for his aggressive style. His 30-year track record as a leading tech analyst has garnered him rave reviews, too. Today he is the editor of the monthly tech investing newsletter Nova-X Report as well as Radical Technology Profits, where he covers truly radical technologies – ones that have the power to sweep across the globe and change the very fabric of our lives – and profit opportunities they give rise to. He also explores "what's next" in the tech investing world at Strategic Tech Investor.

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  1. Robert McLean | March 8, 2012

    Hello Michael Robinson,

    I have been following the rise of 3d printing for a couple years now and I have registered roughly 350 domain names related to 3d printing and 3d scanning.

    I have been investing in domain names for going on three years now. I have learned a great deal about the domaining business and my dreams of making it rich by selling that "big" domain name has been brought down to earth.

    I have limited funds at the moment, so making a big move in the 3d printing industry is not possible yet. I am working hard to ferret out opportunity.

    I very much like what you wrote here, well done.

    Thank you for your hard work.

    Sincerely,
    Robert McLean

    • lostisland | May 23, 2013

      So, you're the equivalent of a squatter – internet kind. Thanks a lot. How about manufacturing a product or coming up with an idea instead of ripping off the little co's that need one of those names. What you're doing is despicable.

    • OKroal | June 6, 2013

      Big shame on you , for looting small , upcoming venture who deserve those names , you are blocking there plans with you evil act ,

  2. Kai Backman | March 8, 2012

    Just a small correction. Tinkercad works directly in a web browser, there is no need to install any extra software. You can access the product in a modern web browser by going to http://tinkercad.com.

    Kai Backman, CEO
    Tinkercad

  3. Gregory L. Goodwill | March 8, 2012

    How can I find more information on this subject? I'm new to this stock game. How can I acquire this type of stock.

    • Glenn | March 8, 2012

      Simple. Invest in the companies that are making 3D printers!

    • chongchit cooper | March 10, 2012

      I am very interested in investing in US equities but brokers here/Australia are charging premium fees. Any suggestions?

  4. Clay Brazwell | March 8, 2012

    I would be most interested in specific names of those companies who are the leaders in 3G printing. How soon can you provide those names?

    Thank you,

    CD Brazwell

    • C. Thayer | March 10, 2012

      When can we get the information on the companies that will be the big winners in 3G printing? Sincerely, C. Thayer

  5. Jochen Hanselmann | March 8, 2012

    I am also very convinced about the disruption of the "old" manufacturing industry through the further developments in 3D Printing. In some areas 3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing technologies are already competitive with respect to price and quality in some areas. Even in some niche markets 3D Printing offers more benefits vs. other manufacturing processes (small production series, heavily customized products). However, currently it looks like that these technologies will not replace traditional mass manufacturing and I think this is not the claimed market.

    I agree that 3D Printing will take some market share of the global manufacturing business. Well-known Wohlers Associates who provide a yearly report on this business conservatively forecasts industry-wide growth to be $3.1 billion by 2016 and $5.2 billion by 2020.

    Looking forward to the upcoming developments.

  6. Graham | March 8, 2012

    Hi, About 4 years ago I learned about 3D printing when I wanted to get some models made for a project I was working on. I had a presentation from Z-Corp and invited other project and dept managers. I also told the suppliers of the equipment we were purchasing. As I recall we ended up with models of the subsea equipment for about 20% of the cost of traditional models. In addition to this the company I was with was involved in the decommissioning of a seriously damaged platform from the North Sea. To assist with the removal we had models made of the components after they were cut up and then put them together. These were used both in the engineering study and to assist in presentations to key personnel for the operation.

  7. George Hausler | March 8, 2012

    The one company that is missing from this article is Stratasys. They are the leaders in this business, with the Dimension line of office printers and the Fortus line of production printers. I do product design for a very large Fortune 500 Company, and we use both the Dimension and Fortus printers. We have used the Dimension printer for several years now. They start at about $15,000. These printers build their parts out of ABS material. This material is good for models to look at and to get a good feel for the design. The parts are not very strong though, and will not hold up to heavy usage or stress. We built a number of parts to be used on the assembly floor, and number of them worked reasonable well as long as they didn’t see too much stress. Your $1500 Hobby printers such as the Makerbot and the Cube are in this category, but with a much lower part resolution and quality. Last June we purchased a Fortus Production printer for around $150,000. This printer can print parts out of numerous materials, one of which is polycarbonate. These parts are incredibly strong and durable. The cost of producing parts on this printer is about 1/10 the cost of having the parts machined out of delrin, a plastic that we typically use. It doesn’t take very long to recover the cost of the printer. We are finding more and more uses for what we can produce with this printer, and presently have a 3 month backlog with the printer running 24/7. We use it primarily to produce fixturing to assemble and test our products. We are looking to add a second printer shortly. The cost savings are incredible, and the speed at which you get parts is amazing. Plus these are parts that can actually be used in the real world, not for just show and tell. I expect Stratasys’s sales of this printer line to grow exponentially as more and more companies see how much money they can save, and how fast they can get durable parts.

  8. Andrew Milmoe | March 8, 2012

    The price of these devices did drop to $500. Printrbot launched a Kickstarted campaign to raise $25,000 to generate an initial round of orders of a device based on the RepRap. They raised $830,000 from 1800 funders. Every highschool should have one of these before too long, creating a whole generation of people comfortable with designing and printing their own parts.

  9. Jw Albritton | March 8, 2012

    Can it make food also ? Hope yall have a GREAT day Jw

  10. Grant Miller | March 8, 2012

    This is a great article and definitely speaks the truth! I've been creating 3D models specifically for 3D printers now for over three years and the prints keep getting better in quality and cheaper! I think soon the technology will be somewhere between high-end desktop laser printers and a Star Trek "Replicator"!

  11. PHIL STEINSCHNEIDER | March 9, 2012

    It’s heartwarming to see someone who’s finally written an article about the revolutionary possibilities of 3D printing. I’ve personally been following this market for several years as well. In particular, I was first made aware of the extraordinary possibilities when working with people and companies in the movie industry that produce various props for films and television.

    In the film Minority Report, the “spyders,” “eyedentiscanners,” and numerous other props were modeled on the computer and then output on low-resolution 3D printers. Not only was the film prescient in the technology used in the movie, but its production was also cutting edge in the way 3D was employed to produce a lot of its props.

    There’s a company by the name of TechShop that is franchising locations that give members access to high tech equipment to output their 3D creations.

    To every extraordinary technology there’s always the extremely dark side. In the case of 3D printing, new fronts will be opened in piracy that currently only exist in the music and film industries whose products are only binary in nature. Once physical objects can be created at home, the traffic in 3D files that infringe on all sorts of patents and copyrights will become commonplace and problematic in certain instances.

    In the end, and on the optimistic side, 3D printing might just be the manufacturing revolution the US needs to move back to the top of the productive economy heap.

  12. Roger Karr | March 13, 2012

    What is the best way to play the 3D technologies particularly the companies that will benefit most from this ?

  13. Terry Toner | April 16, 2012

    Looking forward to the newsletter

  14. C White | May 28, 2012

    Great article. Looking forward to more information on this up and coming industry, as well as the reading your morning newsletter.

  15. ben951 | July 28, 2012

    This will be a huge market until a 3D printer can print another 3D printer.

  16. Re | September 1, 2012

    Intrigued!

  17. jack daniels | October 28, 2012

    you only have to look at how successful the 3d print show 2012 was in the uk to see how this is flourishing imyself made a few aquisitions in the form of domain names and as interest gows within this technology so does interest in these domains.the first 3d printer shop has also been opened up in manhattan.
    there is endless possibilities here make sure you grab a piece

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