We have our eye on another sphere of innovations that may create VC opportunities for physical products in the energy space: manufacturing innovations. For example, advances in the field of 3D Printing will conceivably bring manufacturing costs down enough to even meet VC investment criteria. 3D printing has been around since the first Stereo Lithography machines hit the market with a price tag over $250,000 back in 1986. Twenty-five years later, anyone can acquire a breadbox-sized MakerBot 3D Printer for less than $2000. It is possible that the affordability and new capabilities of 3D printing will change the way products are manufactured, even products for the old-fashioned energy industry. The cost and time of prototyping new designs, from a new turbine blade to a new solar panel mounting bracket or an intricately designed heat exchanger, could drop dramatically. Also, 20% of 3D printing output is already producing final product with that percentage expected to increase as capabilities improve, reducing the money and time spent in product development as well. Even the Federal government has pledged $30 million in funding to create the new National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.
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