Every few weeks, someone asks me what I think the future of 3D printing is - whether it's going to really change the way things are made. My response is to ask if the name "PCC" means anything to them - a question that almost always elicits a blank stare.
PCC is a manufacturer of castings and forgings, primarily for aerospace and power generation. They live mostly outside of the public eye; to most folks, casting pretty much begins and ends with old-school iron cookware, and few stop to consider how improvements in casting techniques might have changed the cost and availability of electricity and air travel over the past half century.
And yet they have had a big impact. PCC sells about $10B worth of products every year, supplying critical propulsion and airframe components to companies like Boeing and Airbus. Many of these parts allow airplanes to reduce weight and improve engine efficiency, helping along significant improvements in fuel economy per seat. And so, in 2016, Precision Castparts Corp was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway for $37.2B. It's the largest amount that Warren Buffett has ever spent on an acquisition.
I bring this up to say: The tech press may maintain their interest in 3D printing, or they may not. It's possible that, in a few years, I'll walk into a retail shop and have made-to-fit parts printed for me on demand. It's possible that manufacturing will become distributed; that supply chains will spin up and down at a moment's notice; that computers will engineer products from start to finish.
But there are many other, less sexy ways to change the world around us. And we'd all be well off if some 3D printing method achieved one of those instead.