28 years ago the first 3D part was printed......, 2013 will be the break out year for 3D printing. The industry is on a growth trajectory that is exponential not linear. President Obama even mentioned 3D printing in his State Of The Union address.
3D printing is being used in all facets of design and industry. Just this week 3D printing was used to print stem cells. It is used to create everything from concrete blocks for construction to foods like chocolate. The medical industry is a big user of 3D printing. Metal parts are being created and implanted outside of the United States, but will soon follow here. Materials from concrete to titanium are being used in the process.
At this point, 3D parts are being used at two extremes of manufacturing, short runs of high quality parts, the likes that are found in the Boeing's 787. The F18 has 90 3D parts in it, and 900 are planned for the F38.
The other end of the spectrum is short run customized products like hearing aids. The VP of DDD claims that a good share of hearing aids are being printed by 3D because each one is customized to the individuals ear.
Jim Kor the creator of the environmental car the Urbee.com, plans to build the Urbee 2 entirely with 3D printed parts.
Manufacturing is becoming more customized every day, and current 3D printing technologies will expand into that environment. 3D printers in the very near future will bring costs down to complete with long run manufacturing.
Design is unleashed and unconstrained from the barriers and restrictions of traditional manufacturing, allowing products to be designed and tested in hours instead of weeks and months, and for a few hundred dollars instead of thousands. Designs can now be created without the concerns of traditional manufacturing......, parts can be constructed in ways unthinkable in the past, making for lighter, stronger and better products.
This industry is just pushing out into the awareness of the layman and early investors will be rewarded. The two largest 3D companies are DDD and SSYS.