3D Printing on the horizon

by James


Imagine it. Your baby daughter innocently breaks a piece off your son’s model airplane causing sibling rivalry to flare out of control. No problem, go online to the Revel website, pay .99 for the replacement, download the 3D file and hit print. In less time than it takes to drink a cup of java, you have a replacement part ready to reinstall, and his plane “flies” again.

3D printing, or rapid prototyping, has been around for nearly a decade but have largely been the domain of automobile manufacturers and industrial designers. But home 3D printing is the wave of the future as those large scale rapid prototyping machines that began at $100,000, have slimmed down with prices to comparatively plummeting as the technology has been perfected.

Well, that future may indeed be now thanks to a company called IdeaLab which is set to release Desktop Factory, a 3D printer for the office. About the size of laser printer on steroids, the Desktop Factory uses plastic powder, a halogen lamp and drum printing technology to build parts layer by layer – slicing and orienting the part for optimal build performance.

Desktop Factory layout

Then all that’s left is to sand the part and paint as needed.

With a target price of $5,000 – $7,000, the Desktop Factory is still out of reach of the average homebody, but if it catches on with the office, you can bet that a consumer grade price of under a thousand dollars isn’t that far behind.

4 reviews or comments

Fred Says: May 7, 2007 at 11:03 am

arrgh, James, you poached my post!

(don’t worry).

Anyway, there’s much much more to 3d printing. It’s unfortunate we can’t go into its myriad layers here. Suffice it to say, the prices are dropping and for lack of a better line, there is currently a price war, and a technology war in the 3d modeler sector.

The real issue when purchasing one of these (I won’t bring in too much firsthand knowledge here) but its all about the resoloution and model type that is needed that decides what you should buy in a modeller.

Yes, this new one from idealab is cheap, but it also has LOW resoloution (in other words don’t look to use it as a final part, but as a functional prototype it may be operable for what you’re doing.)

For toys and simple items, lower end modellers are going to change the way things work, however, with products that require rigidity, strength, longevity, or even precision, you’re still looking at getting a machine costing between 24 and 130,000 USD.

But for simple molds, castings, (they’re perfect for castings!) and the like, they are going to change the way people do things.

Also you should check out the VFlash modeller coming out next month, and for getting data into the computer look at the Next Engine, it is beyond amazing when it comes to affordable 3d scanning.

You have to remember the most important part of 3d rapid prototyping, you can only get out, what you put in, so it’s still going to take a professional to make quality parts.

Neagle Says: May 7, 2007 at 8:11 pm

I am impressed , it’s a big step in the right direction. It may be a long way off but, I can see a future where chemical alloy manipulation may be able to produce replications suitable to use in a space craft in rout to Mar’s. OK, perhaps a really long way off.

Wayne Says: May 8, 2007 at 10:56 am

Invisalign must be using something like this. There are three steps, make a mold of the teeth, a scanner destroys the mold a thin layer at a time – making a scan each layer. The pc then has a ‘perfect’ image of the teeth. Using a program it decides the steps to move the teeth where they should be and ‘prints’ each step using the 3d printer.

This is an important step in bridging the gap between people and software – the step where it begins to become part of our physical world. I can see a list of enhancements over the next years including multiple density materials combined for objects (think bugs, soft on the inside and hard on the outside), making use of colors, and finally adding biological elements to bring 3d printing to life (how about a purple ladybug today?)

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