Signals #19 – 3D Printing


  • Prototyping with traditional manufacturing methods takes time. Molding and casting are most cost-effective with larger volumes. New parts require major changes in tools, molds or dies.


  • 3D printing enables rapid prototyping, single-step manufacturing and complex, almost unrestricted designs. 3D printing has developed from a hobby to a serious alternative in industrial manufacturing.


  • Familiarize yourself with the 2 branches of 3D printing: consumer vs. industrial.
  • Start a 3D printing shop. An entry-level printer costs anywhere between $200 to $1200. Filament can be as cheap as $25/kg. The consumer printing industry repeatedly reports profit margins ranging between 70-90%.
  • Sell your 3D printable models at TurboSquidCG Trader or Shapeways.
  • [Pro] Productize your 3D printing knowledge into coursesThis course sells for €15 and has been taken by 18,000+ students.
  • [Pro] Build a subscription box model. One idea is to supply the monthly filaments automatically to customers (3D Printing Gear charges $24.99 monthly).
  • [Pro] Keep an eye on the investments happening in the industrial 3D printing space. During 2020, over $600m was invested in 45+ startups. Crunchbase has listed the companies here. AM Ventures just announced the launch of a new €100m+ venture capital fund dedicated to industrial 3D printing.



  • The real value of 3D printing is in the ability to create parts that no other manufacturing method can. It boosts the freedom of design. Other key benefits:
  • The possibilities in different industries are endless: aviation, medical, automotive, construction, robotics, entertainment and more. 9 Fortune 500 companies that are pioneering the use of 3D printing.
  • [Pro] Engineering businesses are increasing the use of 3D printing: 73% reported that they will use more 3D printed parts in 2021 vs. 2020.
  • [Pro] It’s not just prototyping anymore. 29% of companies already report using 3D printed parts for aesthetic or functional end-use purposes.
  • [Pro] Globally, over 2.1 million units of 3D printers were shipped in 2020.


  • Biggest drawback of 3D printing is still the high price with higher volumes. Standard parts will continue to be made with traditional processes, such as injection molding and urethane casting.
  • [Pro] Traditional forms of IP protection might be challenged as designs can be shared and printed anywhere.
  • [Pro] There are also less desirable effects of 3D printing, such as producing components or working assemblies of weapons.
  • [Pro] In 2020 the candidate-per-job ratio in the industry was 20:1 (North America) and 24:1 (Europe). Despite this, there’s talent scarcity and demanding roles are hard to fill.


  • Nikko Industries was started with only $1,000 (of which the 3D printer consisted $800). Nikko sells 3D printed fandom figures, costumes and digital designs with about 80% profit margins.
  • The Spaghetti Detective is a tracking system for 3D printers that catches failures early. It started as a side project but has grown to making around $20k-$30k monthly. Kenneth Jiang pushed on despite modest conversion rates in the beginning (0.3%) and improved consistently. Now 6% of free trial users convert to paying customers.
  • [Pro] Forust is a 3D wood printing tool that reuses wood waste, such and cellulose dust and lignin to create interior products, electronics cases, instruments, aviation components, home goods and more. Desktop Metal acquired Forust in late 2020 for $2.5 million.
  • [Pro] Mantle focuses on creating better molds and dies for the tool industry. It secured a $13 million funding round in early 2021.
  • [Pro] Ultimate 3D Printing Store saw a huge surge in sales during COVID-19 (from $145,000/month to $345,000/month). The ability to print products that were otherwise sold out and in high demand helped them stand out during the time of the crisis.
  • [Pro] Xilloc’s CT-Bone is a bone-like customized implant that is 3D printed and converted to real bone by the patient’s body.
  • [Pro] It’s becoming possible to 3D print entire boats


  • The total 3D printing market value was estimated at $12.6 billion in 2020. The market is expected to be worth an estimated $37.2 billion in 2026.
  • Dubai plans to have 25% of all buildings to be 3D printed by 2030.
  • [Pro] Metal printing will gain momentum. More end-use metal parts will be printed. It’s expected that 180,000 units of 3D metal printers will be shipped annually by 2027 (up from 13,800 in 2019).
  • [Pro] AI will play a bigger role in 3D printing. Inkbit’s machine vision system scans each printed layer and predicts the material behavior during printing. The algorithm learns over time and improves results automatically. It also allows for 100% quality control since each layer is tracked separately.
  • [Pro] 3D printing will be tested in space by NASA during 2022. They will compare manufacturing of components in space vs. traditional cargo launches that take parts to orbit and see if there are efficiency/cost benefits to be reaped.



  • 3D printing is again gaining momentum. The companies are receiving dozens and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.
  • Solutions for metal printing are finally going mainstream.
  • There are literally dozens of ways to make money in this industry: sell digital models, physical prints, sell courses, rent your printers, help prevent failures…