For many, 3-D printing still looks like a gimmick, used for printing useless plastic figurines and not much else.
But with key patents running out this year, new printers that use metal, wood and fabric are set to become much more widely available -- putting the engineering world on the cusp of major historical change.
The billion-dollar defense industry is at the bleeding edge of this innovation, with the U.S. military already investing heavily in efforts to print uniforms, synthetic skin to treat battle wounds, and even food, said Alex Chausovsky, an analyst at IHS Technology.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already invented "4-D printing" -- creating materials that change when they come into contact with elements such as water.
One day, that could mean things like printed uniforms that change color depending on their environment.
Read more on 3-D printing on IndustryWeek.