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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