OK, let's get away from all the political rhetoric for a while (at least a few paragraphs) and discuss business and investing, sans our crazy electorate. Recently I have been looking at a technology which seems to have emerged over the past couple of years, now is on the verge of going mainstream, and which I feel can be a real game changer in its impact on a myriad of industries. I'm referring to 3D Printing. Most of you have probably heard of 3D Printing because security types were discussing the possibility of 3D generated plastic guns being smuggled on board aircraft a number of months ago. While weapons are certainly a potential outgrowth of this technology, I feel that there are thousands of applications that have the potential to dislocate an infinite number of industries.
3D Printing is a printing process that lays down various materials such as plastic, rubber, powders, alloys, metals, thermoplastics, and other materials in layers. The technology has been around since the mid-1980's, but recent technological advances have made the printers much more affordable, in the $2-$3K range (see picture below). The printers have the capability of creating a limitless number of products generated from digital designs.
Why is this such a game changer? Consider a retail concept where a small store front of a few hundred square feet has 1-2 printers and a handful of kiosks or iPads loaded with design apps. The apps can be general 3D design software, or more specific software designed to make toys, tools, home decorations, safety equipment, automotive replacement parts, etc. A consumer walks in, either designs his own device, possibly with the assistance of the clerk or an online representative/help program, and prints it on the spot. The consumer could also design the product at home, and if they can't afford a 3D Printer, head to this store to print their design. What if you don't want to design your own product? You could buy pre-made designs (think app store purchases for $.99).
What industries are impacted? How about plastic and other material manufacturers? After-market parts makers. Toy manufacturers. Retailers. Software developers. 3D printer developers. Consumer goods makers. Tablet/phone manufacturers. Tired of paying $18 for a phone case? Make your own! Don't like the frame for your eyeglasses, or want them in multiple colors? Make your own! Want to change the color of your plastic dishes for a backyard BBQ? Make your own! Want to redesign your coffee maker to fit in a tight space? Make your own!
This list is limitless, and I truly believe this can be a revolutionary product once the power of it is unleashed. Watch for more at CES in January.
Short but sweet-looking forward to speaking with you soon. I'll have a note out soon discussing Hurricane Sandy, Q4 and 2013 GDP, and investing in general.
Have a great day