Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced plans to invest £14.7 million into innovative R&D projects that make use of 3D printing technology.

The lion's share of the investment - £8.4 million - will be invested by the Technology Strategy Board, along with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The private sector will contribute an additional £6.3 million to help fund the 18 innovative R&D projects, which will last between one and three years.

"Investing in tomorrow's technology will bring jobs and economic growth throughout the UK," said Cable.

"That's why last month the government announced the biggest ever investment in the work of the Technology Strategy Board. With £440 million of funding they will support new manufacturing techniques to maintain the UK's position as a world leader in technology and design.

"This joint investment with the Research Councils highlights the commitment from across the sector to boost manufacturing in the UK."

3D printing is a way of making three-dimensional solid objects of practically any shape from a digital model. The technology, which is also known as "additive manufacturing", is already used in a wide range of industries including pharmaceuticals, automotive and metals manufacturing.

The projects that will receive funding range from 3D-printed cranio-facial implants to 3D-printed hip joints and surgical instruments (where the surgeon orders and receives a complete 'kit', including joint and tools), and a project to improve the manufacture of 3D-printed gold jewellery.

3D printers are already in use in many businesses, and Gartner believes that enterprise-class 3D printers will be available for less than $2,000 by 2016. The analyst firm said the technology holds the potential to fundamentally change how business transactions are conducted.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama highlighted the potential role of 3D printing in strengthening the military and America's sagging manufacturing industry. However, the debate has been somewhat overshadowed by the debate in the US around 3D-printed guns.