3-D Printing: Still Promising After All These Years

3-D Printing: Still Promising After All These Years

By Gerald Harris

Is 3-D printing getting ready to dazzle Wall Street again? Back in 2012-13, investors were fascinated by this technology, which creates or “prints” products one tiny layer at a time – for a fraction of their normal cost. Then 3-D fell out of the limelight when it became clear that it was not perfected, too expensive for the mass market, and the shares of some of these companies overpriced. But now, thanks to San Francisco startup Apis Cor, the spotlight may soon shine on them once again.

Home, Cheap Home

That’s because Apis Co built the world’s first 3-D-printed house in just 24 hours at a cost of only $10,000. Okay, the house is 400 square feet, small by anyone’s standards. Still, printing an entire house for $10,000 is incredible!

According to Zero Hedge, the world’s first 3-D printed apartment building, a five-story structure, was built in China in 2015. But that structure was printed in a manufacturing facility, and the pieces had to be put together on site – not the most efficient way of getting the job done. Moreover, those printers were bulky, have height restrictions, and are difficult to transport and assemble – disadvantages that limit their use in the construction industry.

Apis Cor’s printer doesn’t have these drawbacks. Their process is completely automated, and does all of the work on the construction site, including putting up the walls and partitions.

When these are assembled, the printer is moved and a roof added, followed by the interior furnishings and fixtures, the latest kitchen appliances, insulation, windows and doors, and painting on the outside. When all is done, the house boasts a small hallway, living room, kitchen, and bathroom.

According to Zero Hedge, the world’s first 3-D printed apartment building, a five-story structure, was built in China in 2015.

Nikita Chen-yun-tai, the inventor who founded Apis Cor and built its 3-D printer, said he wants “to automate everything… We want to help people around the world improve their living conditions. That’s why the construction process has to become fast, efficient, and high quality. For this to happen we need to delegate all of the hard work to smart machines.”

Easing Housing Shortages

Despite the limitations of the size, Investopedia speculates that this process could be used to build temporary housing for those affected by serious natural disasters. And if Apis Cor’s technology is brought to the mass market it could even ease the serious housing shortage in many communities.

Within a few years the technology will have become more efficient, additional companies will have entered the business, and prices for the printers and finished products will be lower. In other words, it may be possible to purchase a spacious, modern, and fashionable house at a fraction of the current cost.

There are other implications, too. According to Zero Hedge, it can potentially pose serious competition to the conventional construction industry. And more importantly, it may also pose a challenge to the multi-trillion-dollar mortgage business, which represents a very important part of the U.S. banking industry.

Far-Reaching Effects

Numerous other businesses and industries will also be impacted with this technology. For example, manufacturers currently make replacement parts for all kinds of products, which are then sold to distributors, retailers, and ultimately to consumers – the price steadily increasing along the way.

But going forward, an end user will be able to 3-D print that part for a fraction of its current retail cost. A lot of the parties now involved and profiting from this system will be forced out of the picture. And the business models of countless companies will be impacted – some making more profits and others much less.

3-D printing is not a distant dream – it is already doing amazing things. Adidas is 3-D printing some sneakers and Nike is doing the same for some shoes; fractured human bones are being repaired with synthetic 3-D material; Airbus showed off the world’s first 3-D-printed plane. And it is even being used to make a broad range of items such as drones, toys, and edible foods like pizzas, desserts, and burgers.

Last year, Stratasys, a firm owned by Israeli-U.S. principals, made a breakthrough product that cut the 3-D printing time in half and uses a wider variety of materials for printing. This process will drive costs down and speed up the time needed to develop new products.

Is 3-D printing going to introduce a new industrial revolution? When Wall Street began pondering this question years ago, it used words like “promise,” “potential,” and “probable” to describe the technology. Now it still does. However, given all of the progress and breakthroughs that have been made, the question being asked now is not if but when.

Sources: businessinsider.com; ft.com; investopedia.com; zerohedge.com.

Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at geraldhrs@yahoo.com