Great News! You Can Still Cash in on the 3-D Printing Boom

“I got to see someone get a new, 3-D printed hand today,” said my fiancé last night over a home-cooked Italian dinner.

My bride-to-be is doing her medical school rotations, specializing in physical rehabilitation.

“The hospital was more than willing to pay for the new hand — it was only 30 bucks! It’s all because of that thing… you write about it — what’s it called?”

3-D printing technology is going into practical applications that are drastically changing the lives of people worldwide.

“Open source,” I said, recalling how once-proprietary electric car designs are following suit.

“Yeah, that’s it,” she said. “The patient got to choose the design, color, and everything before it was attached. Very cool.”

Very cool indeed!

Readers of my Tomorrow in Review e-letter are well acquainted with ideas like 3-D printing and “open source.”

But for those who are just learning about it — or who want a comprehensive update — I’d like to tell you about some new iterations of this technology that you can expect to see in the future. I’ll show you how you can invest in them, and ultimately, how you can allow these remarkable technologies to improve your own life.

You see, 3-D printing applications are going beyond the fun stuff — i.e. musical instruments, candy, fashionable cloths, etc. They’re even going beyond those stories that stretch your imagination, like 3-D printed cars (where much of the tech actually began) or entire houses “printed” with concrete. 3-D printing technology is going into practical applications that are drastically changing the lives of people worldwide.

As I hinted, the medical field is a prime example.

Take the story of a 22-year-old woman in the Netherlands who, earlier this year, had her entire skull replaced. Why?

The young woman suffered from a rare genetic disease causing the bone in her skull to thicken more than 3 times the normal rate, causing headaches and vision loss from the pressure on her brain.

3-D Printed Skull

After this new 3-D printed skull (pictured above) was tailored to her specs, she had a first-of-its-kind 23-hour operation. The results were extraordinary. She experienced a comparatively faster recovery time, and is now symptom-free and back to work with barely a sign that the surgery ever took place.

3-D printing works so well that in some surgeries the doctors don’t just print the replacement body parts… they also print the tools used to install them!

A great example comes from the story of a 29-year-old man from Wales named Stephen Power. Despite wearing a helmet, Power had a motorcycle accident that fractured his jaw, cheek bones, nose and skull. Afterwards, his left eye began to sink dangerously low in his face.

Before 3-D printing, Power’s surgeons would have practiced on a rough model of the patient’s face using off-the-shelf parts. This time, they custom-designed tools and reconstructed his entire face.

Prosthetics designer Sean Peel described the old approach as using “visual judgments and crude measurements.” One doctor on the case said the old method was “freehand” and that “you [used to have] to guess where everything goes.”

Using both 3-D scanning and 3-D printing technologies, the surgeons were able to improve every single step of the reconstruction process. They had better accuracy and predictability and a quicker time in the operating room, as well as much less potential cost in follow-up procedures and less risk of infection. “It is totally life-changing,” Power told the BBC. “I could see the difference straightaway the day I woke up from the surgery.”

While these surgeries have a good track record, they’re still largely new initiatives. But it’s only a matter of time before the procedures become common practice worldwide.

As you may know, the grand-daddy of 3-D printing research firms is Wohlers Associates, Inc.

On May 1, it released the Wohlers Report 2014. The 276-page report is packed with 35 charts and graphs, 60 tables, and 248 images and illustrations… and more words than I care to count. So what did the report say, in a nutshell?

3-D printing isn’t going anywhere; if anything, it’s just getting started.

“The industry is experiencing change that we have not seen in 20+ years of tracking it,” said Tim Caffrey, one of two of its main authors, adding, “what’s most exciting is that we have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.”

According to a press release:

“The global market for 3D printing, with all its products and services, grew to $3.07 billion last year. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.9% is the highest in 17 years. The growth of worldwide revenues over the past 26 years hasn’t been bad either, averaging 27%. But as our tech research team said last year, ‘additive manufacturing has hit an inflexion point.’ And that remains to be the case. The CAGR for the past three years (2011–2013) was 32.3%.”

Our thesis remains intact: 3-D printing isn’t going anywhere; if anything, it’s just getting started.

So what’s next?

Well, if you’ve heard of 3-D printing, you may know something about bio-printing, where the “ink” that’s used in a printer is cells. In the future, another Stephen Power might have his faced “printed” on with cells that would heal his tissue.

Already, bio-printing is happening on a smaller scale…

“Recently, a baby born with a defective windpipe got a new one printed out of plastic to serve as a framework upon which to grow a new trachea using the infant’s own stem cells,” reports our own biotech guru, Ray Blanco.

“Once a new windpipe was grown, it was implanted into the baby. The advantage of this method over transplanting from a donor is that the child’s own cells were used, so there’s little risk of tissue rejection or the need for immunosuppressive drugs for his body to accept the transplant.

“The latest news” says Ray of this new method “comes in the Journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.”

“Researchers developed a bioprinting method to create a mold upon which to grow blood vessels. They then covered the mold with cells and a cell-friendly hydrogel. Later, the cells organized themselves into small blood vessels and the molds could be removed.”

According to a researcher working on this project, “In the future, 3-D printing technology may be used to develop transplantable tissues customized to each patient’s needs or be used outside the body to develop drugs that are safe and effective.”

And that leads to something else entirely: 4-D printing…

As with most great technological advancements, 4D-printing combines two technologies: 3-D printing, and “smart ink.” Essentially, 4-D printing uses “ink” that can transform after being printed, over that fourth dimension: Time.

In a way, bioprinting is 4-D printing. A lot of the best 4-D printing concepts base their designs on biology — a field called “biomimicry.” With 4-D printing, materials used in a printed object respond to different inputs in different ways, responding to things like pressure, temperature, even contact with other substances.

Last time we broached the subject, we talked about the ongoing water infrastructure problem in the U.S. A 4-D printed pipe would be capable of repairing itself after a leak. But that’s just one example. The possibilities here are practically endless.

So how do you invest in 4-D printing?

Sure, you could invest in big companies like 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) or Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS). But unless you have someone constantly watching those stocks for you, making sure your timing is impeccable, you won’t experience the windfall gains that will come from the 3-D printing revolution. For the most part, those gains have come and gone.

However… those companies continue to acquire smaller innovators at an astounding rate. And that gets us excited about private 3-D and 4-D printing startups. After all, if they’re small and innovative enough, an acquisition could explode the return on investment for initial stakeholders.

Our favorite “acquisition target” right now?

In the equity crowdfunding space, there’s a 3-D company that’s on the cusp of 4-D printing, called Made Solid, that’s raising money online. Made Solid is raising $500,000 on AngelList and the round is being led by Y-Combinator’s Garry Tan.

In case you don’t know, Y-Combinator is a prestigious start-up incubator – often dubbed an “Ivy League” for start-ups. Already, this young group has produced three patent-pending materials, putting them in a good position to make the shift to 4-D ahead of their competitors.

This is a long-term trend that’s just getting underway, and we predict that many more start-ups will enter this space. In the meantime, keep an eye on Made Solid, and be on the lookout for other great companies that could benefit from this undeniable market trend.

Best,

Josh Grasmick
for The Daily Reckoning

P.S. When my fiancé told me about the 3-D printed hand, I had to chuckle… What started as an idea in our introductory presentation to 3-D printing, has now found its way into my life unexpectedly. In today’s issue of my FREE Tomorrow in Review e-letter, I gave readers an opportunity to take advantage of the most incredible research available on 3-D printing… and all of the potential profits that come with it. Don’t miss our chance to get in on the ground floor of the next great company in this and other tech spaces. Sign up for the FREE Tomorrow in Review email edition, right here.

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