3-D Printing, the next big thing

Trying to predict the future is fun, because it can be really profitable. One of the things I think has the potential to be the next technological revolution like electricity or the internet is 3-D printing (also called rapid prototyping).

In the early years computers were only used by large corporations or the government. Same with 3-D printers. They are still large, very expensive, difficult to use, and not useful to individual consumers yet.

When the large computers of yesteryear existed, people didn’t think individual consumers had any real use for that technology. Obviously as they got smaller, more powerful and cheaper there were thousands of uses created.

The cool thing about this emerging technology is it’s following the same pattern as the personal computer. In this sense you can almost predict the future by looking at history.

If you don’t know what 3-D printing is, checkout some videos on the subject. This video is a promo video for a Zcorp 3D printer. If you already know what 3D printing is, you can skip the video.

This following video shows the possible use of 3-D printing for building homes and other structures. Instead of taking months to build a home, tracts of affordable homes can be constructed in hours or days.

You can find more info and amazing videos about this at http://www.contourcrafting.org/
The cool part is they already have this technology making small-scale buildings out of concrete and other construction materials.

Want to print out some condominiums?

Or maybe put up some warehouses in 1/10th the time of traditional construction?

The prices of 3-D printers are dropping, but they’re still well out of reach for individual consumers. One of the things that are allowing these printers to be built for (relatively) cheap is the Fab@Home open source 3-D printing project. They’ve basically given a whole FREE set of plans, instructions and software to allow you to build a working 3-D printer at home.

The printer can print small objects out of silicon, chocolate or other heat-malleable materials. This sounds trivial, but remember that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (founders of Apple) both got their start by making do-it-yourself computers and selling them completely assembled.
This whole 3-D printing thing means that now you can share not just information, but THINGS over the internet. Right now you can send a news article to a friend across the planet by sending it to them and they print it out. Similarly, soon you will be able to “send” actual THINGS like jewelry, toys, medical instruments etc.. That’s an ENORMOUS advancement in technology which will end up having countless useful and entertaining applications across almost every industry.

  • Telephone: Allows for transmission of voice over long distances.
  • Internet: Allows for transmission of information over long distances.
  • 3-D Printing: Allows for transmission of THINGS over long distances.

As a small example, let’s say I need some scissors for a project, but oops, I don’t have any!

As you can see I just hopped online, printed some scissors out on my 3-D printer and was on my way. As time goes on, these printers will be able to print out increasingly complicated devices, complete with computer circuitry and complex moving parts. Instead of having to buy a new starter for your car, in time you may be able to simply “print” one out at home!

HOW TO PROFIT:
This technology is still far from individual consumer hands and will take a few years to get there, so there’s no hurry to do anything now, however here’s some ways I’ve thought of that could make money from this new technology.

  • Make a website that people can upload and share their 3-D print creations in the form of files.
  • Buy stocks of companies that create 3-D printers or 3-D printing related products or software.
  • Build Fab@Home 3-D printers and sell them fully assembled.
  • Buy an industrial 3-D printer and allow other people to send you their CAD files to be printed into models.
  • Make your own 3D print art.
  • Make your own 3D print jewelry.
  • Get the CAD drawings from buildings under construction and print models of the building.
  • Use your imagination!

I for one am very excited about this technology. Perhaps I might buy one of these printers just to start tinkering around with it….who knows what could come of it!

Blog posted on: November 5, 2007

18 comments on “3-D Printing, the next big thing

  1. Jason L. Baptiste

    ya know, you read my mind Nev… I was pondering how boring, uninnovating, and just blah the technology scene is getting. Cmon, were all sick of this web 2.0 garbage. Then this post popped into my feed reader… I’m blown away. Ive been aware of this technology, but this really made me go wow. Keep up the great posts.

    -jlb

    Reply
  2. awcool

    Get real.. You can’t have a printer that can print ‘anything’.. First of all, you’d need every type of raw material inside this printer of yours.. Secondly, ink requires you to have an ink-writing head.. Now, you’d need furnaces in your printer to be able to melt some of these raw materials into shape.. Give it up.. Next thing you’ll tell us is that teleporting is around the corner..

    Reply
  3. Aaron

    awcool,

    Obviously you can’t print “anything” but you can already print a lot. Lookup Rapid Prototyping or 3d Printing on YouTube and you can see tons of demonstrations of cool objects being printed.

    I don’t know why people think this is so far off, we have a 3D printer at the design firm I work for. I see this technology being used every day.

    Reply
  4. Neville

    Jason,

    Glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve been following 3D printing for a while now because it’s really a fascinating field with mind-blowing potential to change a lot of industries in the coming years.

    For now the uses are somewhat limited, but give it time.

    Here’s a cool application I saw a while ago. It combines motion capture with 3D printing to make objects drawn in thin air!

    Check it out:
    Sketch Design

    Reply
  5. General Fabb

    3D Printing, a.k.a. Fabbing has been around a while, but is only now coming towards the consumer market as prices drop. I’d consider this era to be similar to the first lousy black and white printers – it’s going to get a lot more interesting in the next few years. Read more at http://fabbaloo.com

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Most of these printers currently use a high intensity beam of light (basically a laser) to build layer upon layer of solid polymers (from vats of liquid polymer). They eventually build up and create the desired object. However, moving parts are still an issue and the surface texture often feels rough.

    Reply
  7. awcool

    Aaron,

    Of course you print any shaped-object, but you can’t print anything as Neville is suggesting with his scissor example.. his idea of being to print a scissor (that actually is a real scissor, not a scissor ‘model’ made of plastic) off the web will never happen, period. Or, being able to print computer chips complete with circuitry.. sure, and we’ll have state of the art fabrication plants built right into our 3D printer!

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    This is all part of his new business idea. Basically he will continually print out change jars gradually getting bigger so that the previous one can fit inside it.

    He will place an initial amount of $1,000 in a jar instantly creating $2,000. (thats $1,000 that he initially had and $1,000 in the jar)

    He will then place that jar within another jar creating $4,000. (the $2,000 he made from the first jar, and the $2,000 thats in the new jar)

    He will just keep repeating this process until he’s a trillionaire.

    He’s not so stupid now is he?

    Answer: yes. yes he is.

    Reply
  9. Kevin Morris

    Cool Stuff. I work at an architecture firm and I’ve seen 3D printing a lot lately, especially making dies for new extrusions, designs, etc.

    Web 3.0 is going to merge the physical world with the virtual, and I don’t think you are too far off Nev.

    -kev
    http://www.thekevblog.com

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Keeping Kreative with a 3D printer | Neville's Financial Blog

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