They said it would revolutionize industries, make lucky investors millions, and improve everyone’s lives. It took a long time, but 3-D printing is finally living up to its promise. Going forward, this trend may accelerate and become even more important to both people and industry.
Despite its name, 3-D printing doesn’t actually “print” anything in the formal sense of the word. A more accurate description is that it creates objects with computer-aided design (CAD) technology, one layer at a time.
The first uses of 3-D were to create simple toys, vases and the like -- objects that did not use electronics, computer chips, or any advanced components. As the technology improved, its potential became better understood, and growing numbers of companies and investors were eager to get involved. But even before this, the need for this technology was clear, specifically as a better way to make prototypes.
Companies and inventors use prototypes to improve designs and to “tweak” the products they are developing. Prototypes are also important to inventors, ad agencies, marketing firms and more, who use them to convince potential customers and clients about the benefits of a particular product.
Years ago, prototypes were made by hand, carving them from wood, wax, or by fitting very tiny pieces together. Although these techniques got the job done, they were very laborious and time-consuming; making them by machine was much faster, but the cost often was prohibitive.
3-D printing gets around these drawbacks by using technology that in some ways is similar to inkjet printing, in this case spraying tiny droplets of molten plastic through a tiny nozzle that is controlled by a computer. This process cuts costs significantly and reduces the time required to make three dimensional objects from weeks to just days.
Creating prototypes and printing simple toys and replacement parts, once considered examples of the great progress this technology was making, is now in the distant past. These days, 3-D printing is being used to do a large variety of crucial tasks. According to Forbes, “Never before has humanity had the ability to replicate durable objects so easily and quickly.”
All Over The Place
3-D printed products are showing up in all kinds of applications and in virtually every industry; many are surprisingly sophisticated and used to perform very important functions. According to Forbes, the following are just some of the ways in which 3-D printing will be used.
“It can have multiple applications in precision medicine -- from creating personalized organs, skin grafts, or mechanical parts to printing targeted nanoparticles, food, and pills that are adapted to one’s specific microbiome and physiology.”
Amazing as this is it barely scratches the surface of 3-D’s capabilities and potential. Other incredible used include:
*creating structures in cells to “imitate the growth of human organs.” This will save countless lives by allowing faster transplants, and be compatible with humans without the need for lifelong anti-rejection treatments.
*using 3-D technology to print food. Printers will use various oils and special “powder” to create nutritious meals -- a development that could go a long way toward helping the hundreds of millions of people who are nutritionally-deprived or suffering from outright hunger.
*using 3-D technology to print clothing and shoes. Currently, countless consumers who buy clothing and shoes find themselves mid-size; the larger size is too loose, but the smaller one snug and uncomfortable. 3-D printing will make it possible to customize these items so consumers can get the exact size they need. An added benefit: They will even be able to design these products in the exact styles they want and have it immediately, never having to wait until orders for “out of stock” items are shipped.
Be It Ever So Humble
In Sept. 2021, home builder ICON did something no home builder had ever done before: It 3-D “printed four homes for sale in the US and ready for move in”; at least one of those is now occupied by a formerly homeless person. The materials used in these homes are said to be stronger and more durable than those used in traditional buildings, and capable of withstanding fire, floods, and extreme weather. Moreover, these homes can be completed in a matter of days.
But ICON has even bigger plans. This year it will print along with Lennar, another home builder, an entire neighborhood in Austin, Texas, that will have with 100 single-story homes when completed.
ICON co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard said that “Construction-scale 3D printing not only delivers higher-quality homes faster and more affordably, but fleets of printers can change the way that entire communities are built for the better.”
The first ever 3-D built house was completed in just 24 hours at a cost of $10,000. Given their advantages in price, durability, and speed of construction, potentially they can be extremely helpful in resolving the homeless and housing crises.
Wall Street Enthusiastic
Savvy investors are always on the lookout for new products and technologies with huge potential, and apparently 3-D printing meets their criteria. Yahoo Finance reports that although the technology has been around for years now, “it has experienced exceptional growth as an industry these past years, due to its limitless applications in commercial manufacturing and large-scale projects.”
While 3-D is showing up in virtually all industries, so far it has possibly made the most impact in healthcare, where it has been used to make exactly fitted prosthetics for amputees but that’s not the only application. For example, the FDA has used this technology in its Rapid Response Plan during the pandemic, manufacturing medical and PPE (personal protection equipment).
According to Yahoo Finance, with 3D printing gearing up for growth investors may profit from stocks like Autodesk, HP In, Raytheon Technologies, and Desktop Metal, Inc.
Insider Monkey, a firm that tracks and analyzes market data, has also come up with these 3-D printing stocks: Israel-based Nano Dimension, Materialise, Proto Labs, 3D Systems, and Stratasys. Of course, there are many factors that affect how individual stocks and groups perform on Wall Street, including trends in the market and economy, milestones companies achieve or difficulties they encounter, as well as inflation rate, and other more unpredictable factors such as outbreaks of pandemics or shipping supply delays. As always, speak with an expert before buying or selling stock.
Sources: builtin.com; explainthatstuff.com; forbes.com; 3dnatives.com; 3dprint.com; yahoofinance.com