The 3D Printing Revolution

10 Companies driving innovation in 3D Printing

Since 3D Printing first took off in the 1980s, it’s come a long way. Now, almost anything can be 3D printed, and almost anyone can do it. Food, organs and even entire houses have been constructed using CAD design plus a variety of printing materials. As the creation of new materials grows, so does the scope of the technology. Soon, we’ll be asking if there’s anything that can’t be printed. Some of the most disruptive 3D Printing companies have been there from the very beginning – but now they’re sharing the field with some incredibly promising startups. So, which firms are at the forefront of 3D printing?

1. 3D Systems

3D Systems was co-founded by Chuck Hull in 1986, who is credited with the invention of stereolithography (SLA). SLA is a form of 3D printing which enables rapid commercial prototyping, which is one of the main uses of 3D Systems’ products. They also supply 3D Printers for applications within aerospace, automotive, architecture, healthcare, entertainment and manufacturing. They have been an instrumental force in encouraging professionals to invest in 3D print technology, and now also manufacture desktop printers for the consumer market.

2. Stratasys

Stratasys manufactures and distributes 3D printers, and sits alongside 3D Systems as a leading 3D Print company. They are one of the oldest names in the game, with 25 years of experience. In 2002, the company introduced the first ‘affordable’ 3D printer, which cost under $30,000. As well as printers, Stratasys also supplies printing materials including thermoplastics. Despite a disappointing drop in revenues for both Stratasys and 3D Systems, they remain the most well-known names in the industry.

3. Shapeways

It seems you can’t talk about 3D Printing without mentioning Shapeways, the pioneering website founded in 2007 that lets people customise their own products. The designs are created using stereolithography, and then sent to the customer. As well as offering weird and wonderful products for the average consumer, Shapeways remains a useful platform for designers looking to print prototypes without racking up huge manufacturing costs.

4. Local Motors

Local Motors are the company responsible for creating the first 3D printed electric car, Strati. The car was ‘revealed’ – in other words, printed there and then – at the 2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago. The model took just under two days to print. Since Strati, the company has moved on to bigger things… Literally. Their next project is Olli, a 3D printed, self-driving mini bus for public transport, unveiled earlier this year. Local Motors have successfully combined two of the most disruptive technologies (automated vehicles and 3D printing). As of yet, they are the first to do this.

5. 3D Hubs

3D Hubs is a global 3d printing supply service that connects owners of 3D printers with people who want to use them via an online platform. Founded in 2013 and headquartered in Amsterdam, the SME has a modest workforce of 45 employees. Despite this, they now have 40,000 registered hubs in 150 countries worldwide. They also offer 3D printed services for industrial applications as well as hobbyists, extending accessibility even further.

6. WinSun

WinSun is a Chinese construction firm that has created a number of structures using a giant 3D printer. In 2015, they made the headlines by printing the first multi-story structures. The company’s latest project involved the creation of 3D printed garden villas, promoting the use of recyclable materials in real estate. Winsun completed the project in just one week, with only three employees. The company has proven popular in its native country and is now looking to global expansion. D/SRUPTION Magazine recently reported on the construction of the ‘Office of the Future’ in Dubai – no second guesses for who built it.

7. Organovo

Organovo has been at the forefront of 3D bioprinting since its establishment in 2007, and has links with a number of health brands like L’Oréal. Headquartered in California, the research company created exVive3D, the world’s first printable liver tissue. The tissue has been used to test the toxicity of drugs prior to human use. Organovo’s ultimate goal is to print entire organs for transplantations.

8. Carbon 3D

Carbon 3D was established in 2014 and has released a 3D printing process which is 25 to 100 times faster than existing methods. The process is called CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) technology. In the words of CEO Joe DeSimone, CLIP harnesses the power of light and water. In late 2015, the company received $100 million in venture capital funding, and their products are already used by BMW and Ford. Carbon 3D’s flagship printer is the M1, and is designed for prototyping and low volume manufacturing.

9. XJet

XJet is an Israeli company founded in 2005 with an initial view to develop solutions for the solar industry. In 2013, they turned their attention to 3D printing, currently pioneering liquid material cartridges instead of the ‘dust’ that other companies generally use. Their liquid alternative, named ‘Nanoparticle Jetting’ was released in May 2016. According to XJet, this improves the printing process by allowing for smaller details, more varied geometry and improved safety. In May, the company raised $25 million in one funding round.

10.  HP

HP one of the biggest names in printing has firmly committed to the 3D Print revolution, supplying industrial-grade printers to big businesses. With access to the right personnel and resources, HP is a major player in accelerating the adoption curve of 3D printing. Their printers aren’t for enthusiastic hobbyists – they’re aimed at the production lines in the factories of the future. The company is so serious about 3D Printing that 50% of the parts in HP 3D printers are created by their own printers.

Whilst a lot of 3D printing is confined to the production line, these examples clearly demonstrate the expanding reach of 3D print technology and the willingness of companies to invest in them. Due to the availability of affordable DIY 3D printers, these innovative companies have the constant challenge of offering the best quality 3D printed products that can’t be replicated by desktop printers. This will be more of a threat to sites like Shapeways, as the average consumer simply won’t be able to afford (or store) industrial printers. Enthusiastic startups like XJet have begun to threaten the big names in 3D Printing by developing new materials, and the list of industry players goes on and on. For now, Stratasys and 3D Systems remain in the lead… But for how long?