Top areas to watch in 2015

Happy New Year from Malta 3D Printing! 2014 was a Terrific Year, Check Out What’s in Store for 2015!

In the following video, 3D printing specialist Steve Heller reports from the floor of EuroMold 2014, the world’s largest 3D printing conference, held in Frankfurt, Germany last month, to share the biggest areas he thinks investors and industry watchers should monitor in 2015 and beyond. Going forward, it’s important for 3D printing investors to monitor industry developments to determine if they could have a material impact on their investments.

Steve Heller: Hey, Fools, Steve Heller here. We’re at EuroMold 2014. We’re at day three, Thanksgiving Day. We’re going to be talking about the top trends to be watching for 2015 in the year ahead.

A lot of these are going to be a continuation of previous trends, but I think they’re proliferating a little bit more in the marketplace.

No. 1: prototyping. Prototyping obviously had a very big presence this year at EuroMold. Basically, prototyping allows companies to bring products to market faster when they use 3D printing technology as a rapid prototyping application. I think that is definitely going to continue, going forward.

Materials, too; look out for new materials [that expand 3D printing applications and help drive adoption] in 2015.

In terms of healthcare-related things, I found this statistic really interesting: In dental, on EOS machines based out of Germany, there have been 10 million crowns and bridges 3D-printed. So, out there in the world, 10 million people have crowns and bridges in their mouths right now that are 3D-printed. That’s incredible!

Jewelry, definitely a continuation on the customization. I got to actually see micro-laser sintering from EOS, and that was an amazing technology. They’re able to print a one-micron-layer thickness – one-micron-layer thickness, that’s incredible resolution. I’ll post some pictures along with this video so that you can see for yourselves how detailed this technology is.

In terms of education, I think that’s another big theme going forward: creating awareness. We’re at the point where there’s a general industry acceptance, but it seems that EuroMold is a little bit in a bubble.

If you walk around and ask a normal person on the street that’s not tied to this industry, “What’s going on? What is 3D printing?” chances are, they may not know too much about 3D printing, or maybe they heard about that 3D-printed gun that one time, so educating people around awareness is definitely going to be a continuation into 2015.

In terms of aerospace, there wasn’t as much of an aerospace presence here. However, there was a metal 3D printing presence. General Electric didn’t have their booth here this year so they weren’t really pushing that aviation angle, but aviation is definitely a huge growth driver of direct metal laser 3D printing applications, going forward.

In terms of healthcare, I got to see a 3D-printed hip implant, which was pretty incredible-looking and kind of crazy! That was from EOS. I think healthcare is still another one of those areas that it’s individualized; you don’t need to make a prototype for it. You can actually print the final product. You don’t have to make a mold for it, you don’t have to tool for it. You can get an actual personalized, one-off solution for a patient.

I think that’s pretty incredible and that’s going to continue, going forward. Those are obviously the two biggest growth drivers of this industry: healthcare and aviation.

Going forward too, I think color is another big focus. 3D Systems had a big display of color, so did Stratasys, so did Mcor Technologies, which is paper-based color.

It seems that all the players are moving toward a full-color world. They’re not just looking for gray-scale prototypes anymore. We’re looking for full-color prototypes that actually show stress points. At low operating costs, that’s going to be a huge trend to watch going forward.

In terms of art and fashion, although right now it’s a smaller space, it gives 3D printing a lot of visibility and it’s extremely high-value in terms of profitability, for Stratasys, let’s say. Their art installation that they had here was absolutely incredible.

It’s expensive to create some of this stuff [art and fashion items] and it actually doesn’t necessarily move the needle in terms of their overall business, but it creates awareness. It gets people looking at this 3D-printed piece of art and saying, “Wow, look at the possibilities. Look at the freeform structure of this. This could actually not have been made any other way than with a 3D printer.” That’s the message that’s being portrayed there.

In terms of direct manufacturing, that was another really big trend this year, basically going direct to making either a finished part or a finished product with a 3D printer. I think that is definitely happening more and more as we go forward. I think that’s where the industry is going to mature to, and I think that companies are working to capitalize on that opportunity.

Another area that I think is a little bit more overlooked is research. You’ve got Oak Ridge National Labs, you’ve got this group, TNO, out of the Netherlands. They’re doing some really interesting things with proof of concepts, proving out technologies, licensing technologies, looking for co-collaborators. I think that academic research is another really interesting area of 3D printing going forward.

Then also, of course, it’s 2014: the 3D-printed selfie. It’s all about scanning solutions as well. Saw a lot of that here this year.

These, together, are all trends that investors and industry watchers — people that are just interested in watching how the industry grows and develops — these are great areas to watch going forward.

Thanks for watching, and Fool on!

by Steve Heller | December 28, 2014

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