One of the more interesting sessions at this year's South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, was 3D Printing: Myth vs. Truth. It was especially useful to investors like us who need to separate the reality from the hype.
For example, there are homes and five-story apartment buildings being 3D-printed in China. 3D-printed prosthetic limbs are changing lives worldwide. There's even some high-profile worrying from entertainer will.i.am about "bioprinting" organs like livers and kidneys.
All these "facts" make the 3D-printing industry seem nearly limitless in potential. But there's a lot of myth mixed in here as well.
At SXSW, I was able to explore these issues with panel moderator Michael Balzer. Founder of the company slo 3D creators and the All Things 3D podcast, Balzer is as close to the trends in the industry as anyone. In this video, he helps us separate truth from myth, and explains what investors should really be paying attention to.
Last year in Chicago, Local Motors produces the world's first 3D-printed car. Meanwhile, in China, WinSun is 3D-printing houses and even six-story apartment buildings.
Sometimes the things really happening in this sector are hard to believe, and it's tough to separate truth from myth. Industry expert Michael Balzer knows more than most about the vast potential in this field. In 2013 he helped save his wife's eyesight after she developed a tumor behind her left eye. Balzer made 3D renderings and physical models of her skull that helped surgeons determine a minimally invasive procedure that saved the eye.
Michael Balzer: There really aren't a lot of myths. There are a lot of truths out there. But are we stretching the truth here? We talked about the Chinese developing homes and apartments. Yes, they did it, but what, really, went into it? How much work was done afterward? So if you saw some of the actual extrusion process, it was very rough. So somebody had to come back and finish it -- like they do it in a real house. So did they save any time?
So it's not quite as simple as it sounds, but 3D printing homes and apartments is not a myth. WinSun claims these buildings can be made for about half the cost of traditional construction methods, use lots of recycled materials, and produce no waste.
But let's talk about the myths now. One of the biggest may have been perpetrated by entertainer will.i.am, who is also chief creative officer at 3D Systems. A few weeks ago he spoke of the need for new laws and codes because one day, "You're going to be able to print a whole freaking person." The press, obviously, seized on this and suddenly people-printing seems in the realm of the possible.
Michael Balzer: The thing is we cannot print organs, nor can we replace them. And I don't think will.i.am really can push to have laws passed that we're going to be 3D printing or bioprinting ourselves. I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon, because we can't even create an organ properly yet.
Now, when it comes to investing in this exciting industry, Balzer suggests the medical field is likely to be an eager adopter.
Michael Balzer: It is already taking place in dentistry. Even my dentist is using what they call an interoral scanning system where they scan your teeth. You no longer have to put the goop in your mouth. They scan it and then they create 3D models from it. So we're seeing more and more uses of it, both in prosthetics, which we talked about, and also in creating models for training for pre-surgery processes so when they actually get in the operating room they'll say, "Ah, I've done this before."
Balzer says the neurosurgeon who worked with his wife is understandably excited about the medical possibilities as well.
Reporting from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, I'm Motley Fool analyst Rex Moore.
Rex Moore has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of 3D Systems. 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.