The race to produce small-series parts on demand, on location, will determine the shape of a $400 billion market.
Roughly half the use of 3D printing is now for prototyping, but experts think that, by 2020, 80 percent of the global production capacity of 3D printers will be dedicated to the manufacture of finished products. GE, for example, expects to make 40,000 jet-fuel nozzles by 2020.
3D printing of finished products is likely to totally transform the value chain, especially for small series production of complex parts. Spare parts—for planes, trains, elevators, cars—is a big and lucrative business, both for manufacturers and logistics companies that move the right part to the right place at the right time. But, as 3D printing is getting faster and cheaper, both the manufacturing and logistics sides of the market are beginning to go digital.