Additive manufacturing also offers the potential for mass customization. While it may someday be possible to quickly and inexpensively produce large quantities of the same item with the technology, that’s probably not the best use of the technology. “The question one would have to ask is why would you want to make one million of the same thing?” says Bheda.

Swartz says that Coca Cola’s new bottles, printed on an inkjet printer and featuring dozens of different names, sayings and designs, offer a glimpse into the possibilities of 3-D printing. Many additive manufacturing systems use some variation of inkjet printers, so there’s no reason composite part manufacturers couldn’t eventually offer similar customization and personalization for each item they produce.

The composites and the 3-D printing industries are only beginning to unlock the potential of combining these technologies. “I think the composites industry is willing to adopt that technology, but I’m not sure if the 3-D printing industry understands composite technology well enough yet,” says Dietsch. “It’s really exciting right now to see these two worlds getting together and sharing ideas because of the higher performance applications that we will begin to see.”

As people begin to understand the capabilities of composites in 3-D printing, they will come up with new ways of using them, adds Swartz. “When the internet first came out, nobody could conceive of something like Facebook,” he says. “I think those are the kinds of breakthroughs that are going to come. Someone will see some use [for additive manufacturing] that none of us ever imagined.”