3D Printers

Impacts and Implications

How does this thing work?

It's actually really simple. Okay, maybe not. But here's the basic gist:

1. A design is manifested in a Computer-Aided Design program

2. A 3D printer reads the design and begins printing the object in layers, from the bottom up

3. The layers are then sprayed using either plastic, metal or ceramic materials (Hembrey, 2013)

4. The printer then either heats each layer to solidify it before continuing to the next layer, or it uses UV lights to cure the plastics (Hembrey, 2013)

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Why Should I Care?

If you plan on making use of that degree that you've bled for by heading into the world of business, here are some things you need to know:

Businesses can begin manufacturing their own products as 3D printing is in many cases a cheaper alternative to production machines. This can reduce costs paid to suppliers higher up the value chain

Many manufacturing firms are highly dependent on labor. 3D Printing does not require an extensive labor force. This can further cut a firm’s costs

Firms can invest saved resources (see above) in other avenues of growth and innovation

The technology also gives firms the ability to print quick and cost efficient prototypes rather than rely on the traditional expensive machinery


To get the most out of this technology, firms need to hire a CAD designer. CAD designers are expensive as their skillset is quite rare.

I still don't buy that anyone uses these things...

In the air

NASA used 3d printing to create a rocket engine injector, that was quicker to manufacture than traditional models

Boeing has used 3d printing to create air duct components, wire ducts and other small general parts for years

On the Ground

When constructing the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu, GM turned to 3d printing to create prototypes it could use to run tests on the vehicle quality

In your Dentist’s Office?

The dental prosthetics industry was boosted by its adoption of the technology. The rapid prototyping afforded by 3d printers lowered costs for manufacturers.

Other areas of healthcare are also benefitting. A British Inventor was recently able to 3d print a prosthetic arm. This type of arm would usually cost thousands of dollars, but the 3d printed version could be sold for just $600

Where will 3D Printers go from here?

Probably Up.

Industry consultants project that the 3d printer market will grow at a rate of 20% per year

The healthcare industry will compromise much of the above mentioned growth. Dental application will continue growing and industry penetration is projected to reach 18% by 2016

Aerospace will account for similar growth figures. Revenue earned from this industry is projected to grow at a compound rate of 30% per year.

The “personal use” market, primarily made up of small business owners is the largest growing sector purchasing 3d printers. Projections for growth of consumption are as high as 100% per year

The hip and knee replacement industry is projected to eventually account for $1.8 billion in revenue for firms that sell 3d printers

Stratasys, Inc. (NASDAQ:SSYS)

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So what's Holding it Back?

Hold me back bro.

Firms that supply 3d printers are locking buyers into purchasing the materials used to print from them. Firms feel that these materials are extremely expensive, offsetting many of the benefits firms would enjoy by buying the printers in the first place

Usability is also something to worry about. In order to print something, you need to first create a detailed illustration for the printer. Design software is very difficult to learn. Companies may feel it be in their best interest to stay the course, rather than train someone to design or pay hefty fees to have a third party design for them

What does Harvard think?

What kind of question is that man? Harvard kids aren't that much smarter than us

An article in the Harvard Business Review predicted the 3d printing will have several market implications.

  • Goods will be produced closer to their point of purchase. This will decrease the sheer number of steps in a value chain, leading to lower prices

  • Goods will be more customizable, as massive tweaks to production machines will no longer be necessary to alter products

So although certain barriers exist, if overcome, it looks like 3d printers will have massive implications on the way we do business. Only time will tell!