Houston: The Rising Hub for 3D Printing Innovations Across Various Industries


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ZMorph VX Multitool 3D Printer [Source: ZMorph via Unsplash]

Charles R. Goulding and Preeti Sulibhavi highlight industries that are flourishing in Houston, Texas.

Texas’ unique geographic location, business-friendly regulatory environment, skilled workforce, and abundant natural resources have made it an economic dynamo to compete with.

Houston is the fourth largest city in the US and is quickly expanding. Built on oil and gas, Houston has just been ranked as number one for International Business. There has been organic growth in the green energy industry as well as some other strong markets (i.e., shipping/trade, technology, manufacturing, engineering and healthcare, etc.).

Houston is renowned as the Energy Capital of the World. However, recent trends in green growth in the City have led people to give it the moniker, “The Energy Transition Capital of the World.” The transition being key to Houston’s current and future energy success. There is rapid growth in the green energy industry, especially with the whole host of tax incentives introduced via federal and state bills passed in recent years. The 3D printing industry has demonstrated its ability to pivot toward different markets in terms of flexibility in design, ability to handle a variety of materials, and the agility to work on-site if need be. These qualities are what have enabled the 3D printing industry to permeate the energy, shipping/marine, aerospace/defense, and healthcare sectors.

Oil & Gas

Traditional oil and gas is what Houston has been singularly associated with in the past. Major oil companies such as Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil and Shell all have large operations in Houston, Texas.

In addition, the three leading oil and gas equipment suppliers, Halliburton, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes are headquartered in Houston.

The oil and gas industry has been focusing on new technologies to meet the global demand for energy but in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. In 2021, the American Petroleum Institute (API) issued the first edition of Standard 20S that supports the use of 3D printing for the oil and gas industry by identifying requirements for quality, specifications for industry applications and protocols for training and inspection (quality control).

Alternative Energy

In the same vein, the oil and gas industry can segue into alternative energy sources. The technical skills related to production processes such as offshore drilling and land-based drilling can be applied to offshore wind and geothermal energy production. Solar projects require large volumes of brackets and fasteners, which are suitable for 3D printing.

As we have discussed, the 3D printing industry is making alternative energy projects more affordable. This turns them into economically viable options. Using 3D printers for creating replacement parts or to repair alternative energy equipment also offers a solution to circumvent supply chain delays.

Emerging technologies like direct carbon capture are becoming more mature, integrating capabilities like 3D printing, generative design, and digital twin into original equipment project designs.

3D printed submarine drone [Source: Sculpteo]

Shipping/Marine

In the marine industry, many projects need on-site equipment repair or maintenance. In such cases, submarine drones are very valuable. Blue Robotics, a company based in California, is making this a reality with the help of Sculpteo’s 3D printing workflows. The drones are described as small, solar-powered boats guided by GPS that can travel long distances across the ocean. The Blue Robotics team used 3D printers to develop thrusters capable of withstanding oceanic water pressure and salinity, as there were no commercially available options at the time. The team’s design made the thruster so dynamic that both the motor and propeller were unique – they were designed to allow water to pass through both components (even the motor), enabling their drones to operate fully submerged in water.

Check out the drones.

Additive manufacturing using rapid plasma deposition for titanium parts [Source: Norsk Titanium]

Aerospace & Defense

Houston is home to the large NASA Space Center complex. The aerospace industry is one of the most widespread users of 3D printing. That includes taking 3D printers into outer space. We have covered many of the leading aerospace companies’ projects and acquisitions and how some of them have been experimenting with 3D printers as well.

Healthcare

In Texas, advanced developments are occurring in healthcare technologies, including the domain of 3D printing. A tech company based in Dallas, called Seagull, is utilizing 3D printers to assist the healthcare sector in visualizing the impact of various diseases on human tissues and organs. According to Seagull, 3D printing is predicted to have a major role in the future of healthcare, including the customized use of MedTech, bioprinting, as well as drugs/medication regimens. We’ve also discussed biomedical innovations that are currently in progress at Rice University, a leading educational institution based in Houston, Texas. The university’s biomedical team uses bioprinting with the aim of helping those suffering from chronic diseases to “regenerate cells” and look forward to a healthier future. Ranging from cancer to orthopedics, bioprinting is revolutionizing the healthcare sector, courtesy of the researchers at Rice University.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

The permanent Research & Development (R&D) Tax Credit now exists for companies that are bringing new or improved products, software, and/or processes into being.

3D printing has the potential to enhance a company’s R&D Tax Credits. The wages of technical staff who design, test, and modify 3D printed prototypes can count as a part of the eligible time for the R&D Tax Credit. In addition, when 3D printing is used to improve a process, the time spent integrating 3D printing hardware and software is also an eligible activity. Lastly, the costs associated with the use of filaments during the developmental process can also be reclaimed when 3D printing is used for modeling and preproduction.

Whether it is used for creating and testing prototypes or for final production, 3D

printing is a great indicator that R&D Credit eligible activities are taking place. Companies implementing this technology at any point should consider taking advantage of R&D Tax Credits.

“Houston, We Have a Problem”

But it is a high-class problem, as so many industries are finding homes in Houston, Texas.

Leading industries such as shipping/maritime, healthcare, and aerospace/defense have settled there.

3D printing companies around the world should keep Houston on their radar for tapping into new markets and recruiting top talent.

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“Why did the 3D printer go to therapy? Because it had too many layers of unresolved issues!”


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Meet the mastermind behind NozzleNerds.com: GCode-Guru, a 3D printing wizard whose filament collection rivals their sock drawer. Here to demystify 3D tech with a mix of expert advice, epic fails, and espresso-fueled rants. If you've ever wondered how to print your way out of a paper bag (or into a new coffee cup), you're in the right place. Dive into the world of 3D printing with us—where the only thing more abundant than our prints is our sarcasm.

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