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Printing the Future: The Landscape of 3D Printing

Printing the Future: The Landscape of 3D Printing

In the realm of modern innovation, one technology sparking excitement and potential is 3D printing. What began as a niche concept in the 1980s has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry with applications ranging from healthcare to aerospace. As we delve into the history, current landscape, and future possibilities of 3D printing, we’ll identify some key players that are MicroVentures portfolio companies taking on the unique space.

Origins and Early Development

The roots of 3D printing trace back to the 1980s when Dr. Hideo Kodama invented one of the first machines to create parts layer by layer, using resin that would print malleable and then harden after being exposed to UV light. Chuck Hull took this process further and in 1986, the “investor of 3D printing” patented the process known as stereolithography. Hull’s patents laid the foundation for today’s 3D printing through creating and commercializing both the process and the .stl format, the most common file type used in 3D printing[1]. The earliest applications of 3D printing were research and development labs, but since its earliest iterations, many companies have expanded upon the use cases in innovative ways to include fashion, food, residential buildings, medical devices, and more.

Source: https://www.3dsystems.com/blog/2015/06/sla-1-national-inventors-hall-fame-museum June 2015

Current Market Landscape

Over the years, 3D printing has permeated various industries, helping to revolutionize production processes and unlock new possibilities.

MicroVentures’ portfolio company Formlabs has democratized access to high-quality 3D printing with desktop machines, empowering designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to life across industries like manufacturing, automotive, aerospace, medical, education, entertainment, and jewelry[2].

Healthcare has also emerged as a frontier for 3D printing, with applications ranging from patient-specific implants to customized prosthetics[3]. Additionally, the aerospace and automotive industries leverage 3D printing to manufacture lightweight components and streamline supply chains. The versatility of 3D printing also extends to architecture and construction, where companies like ICON and Mighty Buildings (also MicroVentures portfolio companies) are aiming to pioneer the use of 3D-printed homes to address housing shortages sustainably.

When it comes to funding, 2021 and 2022 were record years for global venture capital funding, raising $1.89B in 2021 and $2.11B in 2022. 2023 experienced a drop to $1.14B in the midst of an overall venture capital downturn. As we look forward through the rest of 2024, will the additive manufacturing industry stabilize? While we can’t predict the future, some are expecting a soft landing as venture capital as a whole rebounds[4]. The global additive manufacturing market itself was valued at $14.5B in 2022 by Vantage Market Research and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 21.6% between 2023 and 2030, reaching $69.3B[5].

Source: https://3dprint.com/306310/venture-capital-in-additive-manufacturing/ January 2024

Key Players in the Market

Mighty Buildings, a MicroVentures portfolio company, has seen growth in construction 3D printing, utilizing robotic systems to fabricate modular structures with speed, efficiency, and cost savings. Their innovative approach aims to not only reduce construction time but also minimize waste and enhance design flexibility. Reaching $5M in 2022 revenue according to its CEO, Mighty Buildings aims to make housing affordable and sustainable while utilizing the full capabilities of 3D printing using a proprietary material called LUMUS. As the demand for sustainable housing solutions grows, Mighty Buildings’ technology may hold promise for addressing global housing challenges[6] [7].

Another MicroVentures portfolio company, ICON, represents another disruptor in the construction industry, using 3D printing to address homelessness and housing insecurity. The company’s recently released Phoenix 3D printer can reportedly half printing costs and construct a home quickly, offering a scalable solution for affordable housing initiatives. Leveraging 3D printing in conjunction with artificial intelligence, ICON aims to reshape the traditional construction paradigm and redefine what’s possible with 3D printing[8] [9].

In the realm of desktop 3D printing, Formlabs, another MicroVentures portfolio company, continues to push boundaries with its innovative resin-based systems. Their precision-engineered printers deliver high-resolution prints suitable for a wide range of applications, from jewelry design to dental prosthetics. With a focus on user-friendly interfaces and robust materials, Formlabs empowers creators to iterate rapidly and explore new design possibilities[10] [11] [12].

Another MicroVentures portfolio company, Frontier Bio, aims to revolutionize drug testing by utilizing 3D printing to create lab grown tissues and blood vessels. It plans to disrupt animal testing by 3D printing human tissues and blood vessels to test the bio validity of various drugs and even potentially reduce the number of needed organ donors through 3D printed organs. Partnered with the Mayo Clinic, Frontier Bio generated $1.32M in 2022 revenue, as reported to MicroVentures, showing progress and interest in 3D printing for biotechnology[13] [14].

Looking to the Future

Looking ahead, the future of 3D printing may hold potential for innovation and disruption. As technology advances and materials science progresses, there could even be greater adoption across industries. In healthcare, 3D bioprinting may allow for the creation of functional tissues and organs, revolutionizing transplantation and personalized medicine. In aerospace and automotive manufacturing, advancements in metal 3D printing could usher in a new era of lightweight, fuel-efficient vehicles and aircraft. Beyond that, 3D printing converging with artificial intelligence and machine learning may optimize design processes.

The journey of 3D printing from its humble beginnings to its current status is a testament to human ingenuity and innovation. As we stand on the cusp of a new era, companies like Mighty Buildings, ICON, Formlabs, and Frontier Bio aim to harness the power of 3D printing through innovative technologies that may have the potential to change the world.

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[1] https://ultimaker.com/learn/the-complete-history-of-3d-printing

[2] https://formlabs.com/industries/

[3] https://www.xometry.com/resources/3d-printing/3d-printing-in-medicine-and-healthcare

[4] https://3dprint.com/306310/venture-capital-in-additive-manufacturing/

[5] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/additive-manufacturing-market-size-share-trends-analysis-hancock-8vfef/

[6] https://techcrunch.com/2023/09/12/mighty-buildings-raises-52m-to-build-3d-printed-prefab-homes

[7] https://www.mightybuildings.com/product

[8] https://iconbuild.com/robotics

[9] https://iconbuild.com/vitruvius

[10] https://formlabs.com/

[11] https://formlabs.com/solutions/

[12] https://formlabs.com/materials/tough-durable/

[13] https://www.frontierbio.com/

[14] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/frontier-bio-leads-medical-innovation-with-lab-grown-blood-vessel-technology-for-replacing-animal-testing-301956695.html


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