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February 28, 2019

3D Printing Approaches Tipping Point, Prompting MRP to Add a New Long Theme

Use of 3D printing technology is catching on across major industries, including healthcare, transportation, and construction. MRP believes we’re at a tipping point before the technology becomes mainstream. As such, we are adding Long 3D Printing to our list of active themes.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, continues to revolutionize the way people design, prototype, and build products. As the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, additive manufacturing is the process of joining materials to make three-dimensional solid objects, usually layer upon layer, with computer-aided design (CAD) software. It allows for functional shapes, including complex ones, to be created via cheaper, more accurate, and on-demand manufacturing and using less material than traditional manufacturing methods.

What started out as prototyping technology for engineers and designers is rapidly infiltrating all sorts of industries with the strongest traction right now occurring in healthcare, transportation, and construction. Adoption is growing so fast that the 3D printing market is expected to bring in nearly $35 billion in revenues by 2020, up from $3 billion in 2013.

Because 3D printing is constantly being explored in fresh contexts, new printable materials are being added into the game every day including thermoplastics, metal, ceramics and, just recently, silicone. That’s a game changer for many industries.

Healthcare: Bioprinting is the future of medicine

3D printing offers new ways to produce not only prosthetics, implants, and artificial limbs, but also replacement bones, tissues, and vessels for sick patients. Surgeons in China are 3D printing brain models to help them plan live surgeries with greater precision. Doctors in India replaced a woman's damaged vertebrae with a 3D printed titanium vertebrae. And, in the breakthrough field of bio printing, scientists are using live cells to create human tissue or entire human organs.

Organovo, the world leader in bio-printing, is developing 3D printers which can create replacement hearts, lungs, kidneys or livers for humans. The same is true of San Francisco-based biotech startup MBC Biolabs which is on a path to developed viable 3D-printed organs.

Also, researchers at the University of Toronto have created a way to 3D print skin. The printer device, which fits in your hand, can be used like a white-out tape dispenser, rolling out “bio ink” skin tissue directly on the affected area and avoiding the necessity of healthy skin being removed from a donor and grafted onto the patient.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed 3D-printed photoreceptors on a hemispherical surface, a technique that could eventually lead to a functional bionic eye, an innovation that could cure blindness.

Then, there is Aprecia Pharmaceuticals which has created the world’s first 3D-printed drugapproved by the FDA. The main idea behind 3D printing drugs is to design and develop medicines that are suited to an individual’s needs. In this way, the size, appearance, shape, dosage and rate of delivery of a wide array of medicines can be adjusted to suit a specific patient’s needs.

And soon, surgeons will use 3D-printed spinal implants to reduce back pain and shorten recovery time from spinal surgeries. Printed from a titanium material, the spinal implants allow “spine tissue to grow through the implant” and fixate better.

Transportation: Disrupting auto and aircraft parts makers

The most common use of a 3D printer is to directly manufacture component parts. As noted in MRP’s June 12, 2018 DIBs titled, 3D Printing strikes another blow to traditional auto suppliers, car makers are beginning to work with tech companies to 3D-print vehicle parts. Last year, Polymaker (a 3D-printing materials company) and X Electrical Vehicle Limited (a car manufacturer) launched the first mass produced 3D-printed car project. The result of that collaboration is an electric vehicle that consists of only 57 3D-printed components. The first of such cars could be delivered to customers in Europe and Asia in the first half of this year, for a list price of $10,000. While this is just the first electric vehicle to be mass-produced with 3D printing, other major auto companies could follow this example.

Since car parts that would usually be made up of multiple pieces can be 3D-printed as a single component, future cars including the non-electric variety will likely require fewer joints and rivets, making auto production significantly less expensive.

The same is true of aircraft makers as evidenced by Boeing’s use of the technology. 3D printing is also seeing strong traction in aerospace, by dramatically changing the economics associated with the one-off manufacture of precision components. It is the latest technology to transform the new space race.  In fact, NASA has installed a 3D printer on the International Space Station (ISS) so astronauts can produce, on-demand, materials and parts suitable to a micogravity environment.

Construction: More affordable housing coming our way

Several companies are leveraging 3D printing to build homes in under 24 hours. Some likePassivDom have created a process that allows small homes that could easily rival a luxury New York apartment to be built in just under 8 hours.  Meanwhile, ICON, a construction tech (ConTech) startup has built America’s first permitted 3D-printed house in Austin Texas. And, just recently, China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced plans to establish 3D-printed houses on the moon, becoming the first country to do so.

Advocates say 3D printed homes are a means to create more affordable housing in the future. According to the National Association of Home Builders, it costs about $237,760 to build a single-family house in the United States.

New MRP Theme: Long 3D Printing

Use of 3D printing technology is becoming mainstream across major industries and MRP believes this disruption is approaching a tipping point in terms of commercial applications. For that reason, MRP is adding Long 3D Printing to our list of active investment themes. We will be tracking the theme via the 3D Printing ETF (PRNT).

3D Printing vs S&P 500