Emerging 3D printing technology has captured popular attention over the last several years, inspiring a bit of a craze in the minds of many technology writers and commentators. In 2011, The Economist wrote:
“Just as nobody could have predicted the impact of the steam engine in 1750—or the printing press in 1450, or the transistor in 1950—it is impossible to foresee the long-term impact of 3D printing. But the technology is coming, and it is likely to disrupt every field it touches. Companies, regulators and entrepreneurs should start thinking about it now.”

3D printing was first conceptualized in the 1970’s, and various versions of 3D printers have been around since then, but the more the technology improves, the clearer its potential becomes. 3D printing could have applications in almost every industry, but its effects on the way we as consumers access goods could be of even greater consequence.

A little background: 3D printing is essentially a means by which you can build a 3D object out of plastic or resin by downloading a 3D model onto your computer and sending the printing instructions to a 3D printer, like you would a document or a pdf file to a regular printer. The 3D printer then constructs your object by one of several methods, with older types of 3D printers, which typically work by depositing thin layers of plastic filament on top of one another, the process can take hours, depending on the size and complexity of the object. Some newer methods have been able to reduce the time it takes to minutes, and produce better quality objects that look more like they were produced in a factory than built from layers of plastic:

Some believe that 3D printing will permanently change the way industrial societies produce and consume products. The traditional methods of mass production and distribution would no longer be relevant in a world where anyone with access to a 3D printer could print whatever they wanted, and to whichever specifications. Such a scenario would almost be a reversal of the industrial revolution. Furthermore, products that might be patented or protected under intellectual property laws will become reducible to information that anyone can download, copy, and distribute. This could lead to the type property rights crisis experienced in the last couple of decades in the music industry due to piracy, but on a much larger scale that could prove catastrophic for countless industries.

Today, that all remains science fiction. 3D printers, while they have come a long way since the 70s, are still niche products with limited capability and limited applications. However, as was the case with the IT revolution of the 70s and 80s, innovators that are able to develop and market this sort of revolutionary technology in its early stages will stand to profit enormously and be in a position to dominate the market in future decades. These companies could be worth your attention: http://3dprintingindustry.com/2015/03/19/fiscal-2014-revenue-results-3d-printings-top-10-guns/