GE already uses 3D printing in a variety of areas from making medical devices and jet engine parts to prototyping components for washing machines.
Three-dimensional printing works by layering material, like plastic or ceramic, into a desired shape. Traditional manufacturing works the other way, by cutting out an object from a larger piece of material.
At GE, 3D printing isn't just a way to make products. It's also a way to try out new tools that could make products better.
"We don't have to invest the time and money into making a permanent tool, but we can 3D print one and be able to see if it really has the type of benefits we dream of," Furstoss said.
GE still plans to use conventional manufacturing techniques, especially for large components. But 3D printing, or additive manufacturing as GE calls it, is still seen playing a role, such as providing tools or repairing parts.
Eoin Treacy's view Above all else 3D printing, or additive manufacturing as it is also known, represents a breakthrough in how our imagination can take physical shape. While the above article focuses on the conventional use of 3D printing in industry, which remains a sizeable growth opportunity, the technology is increasingly being used in other fields, not least medicine. For example, this article from Gizmodo highlights how a team at Huazhong University in China have printed a working kidney.
For a look at how quickly one's imagination can turn into marketable products visit Shapeways.com which is an offshoot of Philips' lifestyle incubator and offers a range of services for the budding 3D developer.
From an investment perspective, the fact that there has been such swift consolidation in the 3-D printing space has resulted in a small number of companies that offer pure plays on growth. Both Stratasys and 3D Systems remain in reasonably consistent medium-term uptrends, defined by progressions of higher reaction lows but are somewhat overextended in the short term. ExOne found support in the region of the 200-day MA from three weeks ago and a sustained move below $40 would be required to question medium-term scope for additional upside.