Oh awesome! I can apply my years of experience in 3D Printing to give some industry background… btw my company is called BotFactory and you can feel free to check us out. DM if you have any questions! We do Electronics 3D printing 🙂
So, 3D printing WAS hyped – people believed then and still do that it will replace existing manufacturing methods…. or that it would be found in people’s homes. They were wrong and even when I got involved in the industry in 2010 I was skeptical of the claims. Designing is hard and injection molded plates and cups are far more durable and much cheaper than printing them.
3D Printing is still slow and the number of materials that can be used are limited. It’s killer app is prototyping and it will be it’s primary use for the next 3 to 5 years. No doubt that it can compete with mass manufacturing but only in very limited situations – the best example is hearing aids. Each one has to be different and they command a high price, justifying the large capital cost of a quality 3D Printer for a hearing clinic.
There is a bright future for the industry but I do not predict that it will be consumer. At most, I predict it being as common as a decent set of powertools in your Dad’s garage – not in the kitchen. In schools definitely a use, but again, it would sit in the shop and see some use but not a huge amount. 3D Design is hard – just because you have a paper printer doesn’t make you Hemingway. Downloading designs is fine but low-cost, multi-material printers are waaaay off in the future.
That being said, Industrial applications are the key element. No surprise that GE and Airbus are pouring money into direct metal printing of complex parts for jet engines and other aerospace applications. Strength and weight command a price premium that justifies the slow and expensive process that is 3D Printing.
Medical uses like printing organs or creating custom fitted prosthetics are a huge opportunity for the same reasons, but as I understand things regulation is a major headache. Printing tissue and organs for drug testing is that sub-area’s big killer application – I can see this accelerating drug research. As for custom prosthetics, definite use there but you don’t need the expensive printers. My friend went to Ecuador and printed off parts for a guy that was missing an arm – his printer was sub $400 and he was quite happy with his new custom arm. No doctor or hospital was involved. So low barriers to entry there….
Construction – nope. I was involved in major research there and building materials are heavily regulated. Buildings have to last enough time and they CANNOT fail. I see artistic applications but that is a limited market.
There are lots of interesting companies in areas RELATED to 3D printing, specifically scanning and CAD design. Ansys I believe is a great stock and I heard good things about Preceptron (small cap 3D Scanning company). 3D Printing is cool and all but it is a part of a larger ecosystem of engineering education, engineering and product development and R&D. One part of a large puzzle that must be understood as well together, not separately.
Edit: tweaked words for style