3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a process whereby objects are created from the successive layering of material. This process promises to transform the way companies approach manufacturing and producing, rendering 3D printing investing an important market for keen investors.

3D printing allows people to print models of existing objects, as well as creating entirely new objects with the help of Computer Aided Design files. This flexibility speaks to the wide variety of tasks which 3D printing can be applied to. Everything from creating prosthetic limbs, to architectural models, to movie props, to ancient artifacts can be created using these advanced 3D printing technologies. Although there are multiple ways that 3D printers work (some use melting or softening materials, selective laser sintering and fused deposition modeling), all function by gradually layering material into the shape of the desired object.

Growth industry

With is broad applicability, the 3D printing industry is poised to grow in coming years. According to Wohlers Report 2014, the industry is expected to grow from $3.07 billion in 2013 to $12.8 billion in 2018. And this growth isn’t expected to slow: Wohlers anticipates the market reaching a whopping $21 billion by 2020.

Pete Basiliere, research director at Gartner, views the market as “emerging from its nascent stage as organizations move beyond design and prototyping applications of 3D printing toward creating short run production quantities of finished products.” Based on available data, he predicts that 3D printing will be adopted by almost half of consumer, heavy industry and life sciences manufactures by 2018.

Use and applications

This impressive growth is expected to be driven by the adoption of 3D printing within key areas of business. A Gartner survey conducted during Q1 of 2014 revealed prototyping, product development, and innovation (or the creation of new items impossible to produce by other means) to be the main ways in which companies use 3D printing technology.

The majority of respondents (37%) ranked the quality of the 3D to be the most important factor, while 28% prioritized price and 9% valued speed. It is indicative that over a quarter of companies named price as the primary factor to consider in a 3D printer.

Basiliere concludes that the cost of 3D printers remains the primary deterrent for companies considering adopting this technology. Despite the proven financial benefits to early adopters (mean production cost decreases approximately 4% with the use of a 3D printer), their upfront cost remains a concern for many companies. To quote Basiliere, “clearly there is much room for future growth in this market, but vendors need to work on tools and market that show how the technology can be applied and drive competitive advantage.” He suggests innovative solutions, like partnering with a 3D printing service bureau, to experiment with the benefits of 3D printing technology without prohibitive upfront costs.

Once companies recognize its benefits, advocates of 3D printing believe that it is sure to become a major tech market. If this holds true, now may be a prime time to consider 3D printing investing.

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