3D printing is not a new technology, but it is one in which many capabilities are merging. In 2018, 3D printing is now used in many consumer and industrial use cases, such as the manufacturing of airline parts.
There are three main use cases to focus on for 3D printing: industrial part printing, design prototyping, and consumer purposes. These should be looked at seriously for industrial uses that are centralized. Manufacturing is a foundational element not just of our economy but also of all human civilization. A transformation of this scope will have effects comparable to those of the industrial revolution itself, including economic, demographic, logistical, cultural, medical, and political disruptions.
For industrial uses, certain types of parts can be printed, but the cost can be high. We are seeing new 3D printer models used much more frequently for design and prototyping. A best practice is using 3D printing to engage customers, and for the consumer space, we see more models being used in homes to print toys.
As the demand for 3D printing grows, imaging and printing vendors like HP will make acquisitions. Given their understanding of supplies that are needed to "print," we are surprised many of them have waited this long. In effect, the maturation of 3D printing will take decades to play out. Expect major headlines through 2050, with consequential reverberations throughout this century.