A Whole New Dimension As Manufacturing Goes 3D

John Hearne | Irish Examiner | January 11, 2014

If you want to get some idea of the hype surrounding 3D printing, check out what the stockmarket thinks.

When Voxeljet, a German manufacturer of 3D, printers staged their initial public offering last month, its shares instantly doubled. Shares in ExOne Co, a maker of industrial 3D printers debuted on the Nasdaq in February at $23.66. They are currently trading at around $60. And if you’d had your money in one of the larger companies in the sector — 3D Systems Corp or Stratasys — you would have seen your investment rise by 100% or 70% respectively in the last year.

Analysts who don’t normally gush have tended to get uncharacteristically excited by 3D printing. Rob Enderle, one of the world’s foremost tech commentators, a man who was prescient about both the Facebook and Twitter IPOs, reckons that 3D is the real deal. “I’m calling this one of the big trends of the decade,” he says. “They are making massive strides advancing the technology almost monthly now. It has started to move into general retail, and mainstream vendors like HP are starting to ramp their efforts to market. We are still early but this could well be the next iPod-like wave.”

Others go further. Chris Andersen, the highly influential former editor of online tech bible Wired has just published a book called Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. He believes we are living in a time comparable to the early eighties, just before computers broke into the mainstream consumer market.

The ‘Maker’ movement, he believes, is harnessing innovations in 3D printing which will ultimately liberate manufacturing from its traditional factory setting. ‘The idea of a factory is...changing,’ He writes. ‘Just as the web democratised innovation in bits, a new class of “rapid prototyping” technologies, from 3D printers to laser cutters, is democratising innovation in atoms. You think the last two decades were amazing? Just wait.’