3D printing technology has been developing for over 20 years, with an almost guaranteed yearly improvement of some sort. But only in the past 5 years has the technology really stepped into gear, reinventing itself from merely a small part of a large-scale manufacturing process into something with the potential of replacing the traditional manufacturing process and much more.
There are currently numerous applications for this type of equipment, from designing a prototype of a consumer product on the spot to building human organs out of living tissue (although printing usable organs is still years away). Also, it is crucial to mention the opportunity to alleviate humanitarian issues around the world using this technology – an example could be the cheap and accessible production of farming equipment in remote areas in developing nations, resulting in a more stable food supply.
Arguably, the application that could have the most immediate large-scale impact is in the manufacturing of products using only 3D printing, completely replacing the traditional assembly line model. With 3D printing, economies of scale (in the traditional sense) will no longer be needed: there won’t be a need to build massive factories, products can be manufactured anywhere in the world thus reducing distribution costs, and the complicated logistics of sourcing parts worldwide will be eliminated as they themselves will be printed in house.
Most recently, there has been some activity in the M&A market with Stratasys, a leader in 3D printing, investing an undisclosed sum into an Israeli company called Massivit 3D, which operates in the manufacture of large format 3D printers and uses a new Gel Dispensing Printing (GDP) technology. Massivit’s printers are generally used to create large display objects for the visual communications market, including point of sale branding, advertising, and exhibitions. With the excitement generated by this technology, we are bound to see further smaller players popping up in the market, conceivably driving M&A activity.
As with all new potentially revolutionary technologies, it is uncertain whether it will take the world by storm or whether it will be gone with the sands of time – but it can be very easy to see why this technology could be heading towards “game-changer” status.