A Basic Introduction to a Field That's Anything But Basic

Michael is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Imagine a world where waiting on a list for an organ transplant is unheard of. A world where, instead, you simply download whichever organ you need, and print it out. 

Imagine a world where going to the car dealership is unnecessary, because dealerships won't exist. A world where, instead, you simply download the car that you'd like, and print it out.

Imagine a world where breaking or losing certain parts to things doesn't mean the item becomes worthless. A world where, instead, you simply download the part from the internet, and print it out.

Obviously this world is still very far away. However, with the surge of new technology, it's not as far as we may think.

The industry is 3D printing, and while all the claims I listed above seem impossible, let me explain. Obviously, it will never be that easy to get a new liver or buy a new car. But the technology is there. Scientists have actually printed a human jaw with a 3D printer and inserted it surgically--with spectacular results. They have even successfully produced living organs made with living cells. Yes, you read that right. Scientists have used 3D printers to print, with living cells, actual human organs. According to Printing Choice, the company behind the printable organs, Organovo (NASDAQOTH: ONVO.PK) "has developed a 3D printer that uses two inkjet cartridges to print the living goo that makes up your guts. The hacked ink cartridges are filled with live cells and hydrogel, a material that’s sprayed down and forms a scaffolding for the cells to form on. It takes 24-48 hours for the cells to bond and become an organ." They go on to explain that "Organovo expects to ship its 3D organ printers to researchers this year, and in three years they expect to be using them in human trials." The Printing Choice published this article about two years ago, and we are right on track with their estimates right now. Here is what the process looks like:

<img src="http://www.explainingthefuture.com/images/bioprinter_500x360.jpg" />

Cool, huh? Organovo's IPO was this past February: It's initial price was just $1.65. But if you didn't get in on it then, don't worry. Organovo spiked at almost $10, but is not back down to about $1.85. Now is still a great time to buy this stock at such a cheap price.

Organ printing is just one of the many abilities of the 3D printer. As I mentioned earlier, a working car has already been printed. In fact, it actually looks pretty cool! Check it out for yourself:

<img src="http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2011/09/23/article-2041106-0E0DA9B400000578-108_468x286.jpg" />

The entire car was made using 3D printing. In fact, it is said that the materials used, as well as the process, are so efficient and strong that it would last about 30 years if it was used on the street. This beautiful car, named Urbee, gets an incredible 200 mpg highway and 100 mpg city. Obviously, there is a small catch: It took fifteen years to make. However, the original creators are off on their way to learning how to make it in far less time.

The possibilities are endless

And there is still much more you can do with this technology. Clothing, parts, toys, furniture, and even human bones have already been successfully created. And this is just the start. In fact, Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS) very recently created the first functional 3D printed gun. So, as you see, the potential is unlimited.

Unfortunately the costs are high. However, so were the costs of 2D printers when they first came out. Now, they are a household item. So, how long is it until 3D printers are?

Some speculate that it will be very soon. Others think they never will be. In my opinion, it will not be long before they are standard in several industries. For example, I believe that in the next few years, every hospital will have a 3D printer. Imagine being able to print a new bone if you break one in your finger. How simple, right? 

I also think other industries will soon have them by the bunch. However, I am still skeptical if they will become household.

Standard criticism includes that people will not be willing to pay so much when the normal household use would involve something like printing a new Lego for children, or similar use. However, the world's first $500 version has just become commercially available, giving hope to the ability for it to become household.

So, where's the money to be made?

So, what is the main stock to cash in on if you're a believer? Generally, people think that 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) will perform the best, and I agree. I think that it is a great start if you're interested in getting involved with 3D printing. However, any of the stocks mentioned in this article are also great. 

The Foolish bottom line

Imagine a world where flipping things over and looking at the bottom did not result in seeing "Made in China" but were instead made in your own house. It's possible. And it's not far.

Again, this article is intended to serve only as a very simple introduction to 3D printing, for those who are unaware of it's abilities. If you are already an expert, I am sorry to have wasted your time, although I hope everyone could learn something from this. Remember, the 3D printing industry is not ready yet; but give it a few years and it may be. 

If you found this interesting, share it with your friends. And, if your looking for other stocks to boost your portfolio, check out my latest report, 5 Stocks to Keep the Rest of Your Life

Foolish blogger Michael Nolan has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems and has the following options: short AUG 2012 $30.00 calls on 3D Systems and short NOV 2012 $35.00 calls on 3D Systems. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend 3D Systems and Stratasys. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.

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