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3D Printing Currently a Potential $500B Market

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For thousands of years, we have relied on processes like forging and casting through the use of impression molds to create increasingly complex tools and consumer goods.  In recent years however, the technology involved with such manufacturing processes has experienced a giant leap forward through the advent of additive manufacturing – often referred to as 3D-printing.

Additive manufacturing is a computer-controlled process through which specialized mediums (typically referred to as ‘filament') are melted and cured, layer-by-layer.  Depending on the scale of printer and project needs, filaments used can range from ABS plastics to liquid metals, carbon fiber infusions, and more.  This allows for the creation of items limited by only human creativity.

In 2023, this technology has grown to the point where it is readily accessible on not only an industrial scale, but to hobbyists and everyone in between.

Source – ARK Invest ‘Big Ideas 2023' Page 131

Beyond taking things like ‘Wrights Law‘ in to account – which essentially states the more we make something, the better we become at doing so – additive manufacturing has many expecting for the sector to continue thriving based on its potential to upend so many others.  ARK Invest highlights this in its recent ‘Big Ideas 2023' report, where it forecasts that when applied to existing markets “3D printing will be a $500 billion market opportunity”.

Looking ahead to 2030, research reports envision additive manufacturing to maintain a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21%, and boast a market size in excess of $77B.

Manufacturers and Innovators

Before diving in to a few examples of how additive manufacturing can change the way we approach things like structural engineering, healthcare, and more, the following are a few examples of companies directly involved with the sector.  These examples are not investment recommendations, but meant to highlight key players working to advance the technology.

Autodesk Inc. (ADSK)

A key component to what makes additive manufacturing possible, is the software which allows for the creation and execution of product design plans.  This is where Autodesk comes in, offering a full suite of software (Fusion 360, Netfabb, Tinkercad) tailor built with additive manufacturing in mind.

Autodesk is headquartered in California, United States.  In 2022, the company boasted a revenue of $4.4B.

Stratasys, Ltd (SSYS)

This company is a leader in the additive manufacturing sector.  Through its line of 3D printers and services, the company boasts solutions targeted towards a variety of fields, including aerospace, dental, automotive, and more.

Stratasys is headquartered in Minnesota, United States.  In 2021, the company boasted a revenue of $606.3M

Xerox Holdings Corp. (XRX)

In 1980, renowned Futurist Ray Kurzweil sold various technologies, including the flatbed scanner, to Xerox.  In the decades since, Xerox has become an eponym for scanners and printers in general, and a household name.

With regards to additive manufacturing, Xerox has leveraged its ability for research and development to create products such as the ElemX, which allows for liquid metal printing.

Xerox is headquartered in Connecticut, United States.  In 2022, the company boasted a revenue of $7.11B.

Where the Opportunity Lay

So we know that lofty forecasts are being made for the future of additive manufacturing.  However, what implementations of this technology provide the foundation for such predictions?  The following are only a few examples out of scores.


Every human is unique.  As such, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to medical devices.  With this in mind, Healthcare is a perfect example of an industry ripe for disruption by additive manufacturing.

  • Need a new hip? 3D-printing can offer a perfect recreation, tailor built for its recipient.
  • Need orthodics? 3D-printing can offer custom inserts to ensure proper gait in the elderly to minimize falls,  reduce joint damage, and even help diabetics.
  • Need a prosthetic? 3D-printing can offer amputees a cost-effective solution to regaining use of all their limbs.
  • Need cardiovascular surgery? 3D-printing allows for the creation of patient-specific implants like stents & valves, making surgeries more effective.

With regards to Healthcare, the list goes on and on, and is why ARK Invest believes that next to the Aerospace sector, it represents one of the most lucrative implementations for additive-manufacturing in the coming years.

Robotics / Machinery

While Robots have had a presence in motion pictures as far back as 1918 in ‘The Master Mystery', it was during the 1980's when they truly became a part of pop culture with movies like Rocky IV and Short Circuit being prime examples.  A main reason for this was because, although the technology to create viable talking robots was still viewed as being decades away, it transitioned from being fantasy to an eventuality.  Fast forward to 2023, and additive manufacturing is now set to play a major role in making these past looks towards the future a reality, with projects like Atlas (as seen in the following video), and InMoov leading the way.

Atlas Gets a Grip | Boston Dynamics

Development of such projects are now being greatly aided by additive manufacturing, as the processes allow for,

  • cost effective creation of low-volume parts
  • increased strength to weight ratios of components
  • elimination of many engineering complexities

With ongoing research increasing our understanding of Robotics, we are much closer to seeing real-world examples than many realize.  There is no doubt that when looking forwards 5-10 years, additive manufacturing will continue to play an important role in making this a reality.

Aerospace & Military Applications

In mid-2022, a United States Navel vessel, the USS Essex, saw the installation of an ElemX.  This is a device manufactured by Xerox, which allows for liquid metal printing.  This particular installation is noteworthy, as it is being used to test the ability for on-site 3D printers to help in ‘operational readiness' of such vessels.

Production-Grade Parts Printed in Hours

The use case of 3D printers extends well beyond sea-faring military operations, and in to the stars.  Not only are government outfits like NASA already building rocket components through additive manufacturing, but research is being done to test the viability of the technology in low-gravity environments.  If successful, this could mean easier maintenance of space stations, extraterrestrial habitats, and more.

The appeal of additive manufacturing in military and aerospace applications goes beyond the convenience of creating parts on demand.  As our understanding of material science increases, we are developing new mediums for use which offer better and better strength to weight ratios – a key to cost effectiveness and structural integrity in complex structures.

An Extra ‘D'?

If all of the above examples were not enough to convince you of the merits of additive manufacturing, consider that we are only just now discovering these use-cases with our current understanding of material sciences.

Looking forward to 2030 and beyond, a major step many expect for additive manufacturing to take is to add yet another ‘D' to the process through the development of ‘4D-printing'.

4D-printing refers to the use of what many call ‘programmable matter'.  It is essentially 3D-printing that utilizes a medium that will react to external stimulus (thermal, electrical, etc.) post creation.

Once perfected, such processes will allow for products that can change shape/size, self-heal through structural ‘memory', and much more.

Final Word

While many of the end products created through 3D-printing highlighted in this article are already on offer today through more established methods, the key differentiators on offer is the efficiency, accessibility, and cost at which the technology allows for them to be produced.

Looking forward, the potential for additive manufacturing to upend so many sectors and open new doors to what human ingenuity can achieve, remains a tantalizing proposition.  With that in mind, forecasts for the sector to skyrocket by tens of billions in value in the coming years may not be as outlandish as they first sound.

Joshua Stoner is a multi-faceted working professional. He has a great interest in the revolutionary 'blockchain' technology.