Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The 3D Printing Phenomenon...

It's always a confidence-boost to feel like you're "in the loop". Well, among technophiles these days, there is a recurring theme that everybody's buzzing about... 3D printing.

Here's the idea in a nutshell. 3D printers are like regular computer printers except that instead of just printing text or images on a piece of paper, they create actual objects made of plastic.

The technology has actually been around for a number of years, however the immense cost of the hardware has always been prohibitive for all but the biggest corporations.

That's all changing. The reason for all the buzz these days is that costs have gone down considerably. It's now possible for the individual hobbyist to buy a 3D printer for as little as $750, and there are build-it-yourself kits that can be purchased on the cheap as well.

But forget all this descriptive info. What's so fascinating about 3D printing is the idea itself. Think about it... what we're really talking about is a cheap, mainstream method of manufacturing. Right now, 3D printers are being used mainly to create prototypes of new products. In other words, people with ideas for inventions develop them on their PC and then simply "print" out physical prototypes of the product. However, looking forward, there is no reason to think that, as the technology matures, larger scale manufacturing won't take place as well.

This holds the potential to be nothing short of a democratization of manufacturing to the masses.

I'm also reminded of the replicator from Star Trek. Need a copy of your car key? Short some silverware for your dinner party? Thinking your kid might enjoy playing with Legos this afternoon? Just click "Print".

Hewlett-Packard is among the large companies starting to see this potential and is getting in on the action. It recently signed a branding deal with 3D printing leader, Stratasys Inc.

And if all this wasn't enough, get ready to have your mind blown. There is a new open-source 3D printer that copies itself! Several variations have been developed of the RepRap (Replicating Rapid-prototyper) printer that can replicate and update itself. It can print its own parts, including updates.

Machines that can self-replicate? The Terminator movies are starting to seem prophetic.



At 7:59 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Objet Geometries has just announced an extension to its trade-in program. They're offering up to $80,000 credit for an older Objet 3D printer as a trade-in when buying one of their Connex multi-material 3D printers or a newer Eden machine. And, they're offering some incentives for trade-ins of non-Objet 3D printers. Worth checking it all out – www.objet.com.

At 12:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree it is very exciting to see the prices of 3D printers come down! They are more affordable and office friendly than ever. Now hobbyists as well as 3D CAD designers can print their ideas and hold it in their hands within hours.


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