Though additive manufacturing, most commonly referred to as 3D printing, has existed in the marketplace for decades, in recent years its popularity and demand has skyrocketed, turning this once little-known process into a booming billion dollar industry. Essentially, 3D printing is the process of creating solid, three-dimensional objects from a digital file by laying down multiple layers of material on top of each other. Since 2003, the cost of these materials printers used in 3D printing has dropped significantly which is, in part, cited for the phenomenal growth within this industry.
Widely recognized 3D Printing industry expert Terry Wohlers of Wohlers Associates, a technology consulting firm, explains the growth of this industry this way:
Low-cost 3D printers affect both the professional and consumer markets. The increased sale of these machines over the past few years has taken additive manufacturing (AM) mainstream more than any other single development. 3D printers have helped spread the technology and made it more accessible to students, researchers, do-it-yourself enthusiasts, hobbyists, inventors, and entrepreneurs.
Further, this technology is being utilized in such industries as construction, automotive, aerospace, medical, dental, construction, education, civil engineering, footwear and jewelry. Its use extends to the industrial design industry, where it is used increasingly for rapid prototyping purposes. Rapid prototyping enables manufacturers to quickly produce either a scale or production-quality model of a part in very small numbers. Sculptors are now utilizing this technology to produce exhibitions, such as Daniel Hilldrup’s ‘Fragments in Time‘ series, printed in 3D and going on display in London for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebration.
The rising popularity of this technology, coupled with the vast number of industrial uses discovered for 3D printing seems to position this industry as invaluable, which is wonderful news for the U.S. economy. While the US Department of Labor reported an increase of 227,000 jobs in February 2012, that number of new jobs simply wasn’t enough to make a dent in the overall unemployment numbers. Percentage-wise, this put an end to a promising six-month increase in job additions. Labor statistics are citing growth in healthcare, hospitality and professional/business services.
On a huge upswing and gaining momentum: technology-related jobs. In fact, even as the economic downturn took its toll on several sectors, the technology industry continued hiring while others reduced their labor force and placed additional burdens on remaining employees. Bloomberg News recently reported that of the companies valued at more than $100 million, about half of those companies increased employment by nearly 50 percent, with an impressive 74 percent of those high-value companies increasing their job force by 10 percent or more. Among these top players were Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Silicon Graphics International and Riverbed Technology.
Both Facebook and Amazon have announced plans to open additional satellite offices, requiring them to hire additional employees in 2012. Tibco Software along with the famous auction site, eBay, have also increased their recruitment efforts. With these types of major employment gains in this industry, along with 3D printing being projected to reach the $3 billion mark by 2016, it seems that focusing on this growing sector–technology–can truly help the U.S. recover from its economic woes.