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Thursday, July 25, 2013

3-D Printing Expected to Boom Starting Next Year

The Atlantic reports that key patents for 3-D printers using laser sintering will expire, allowing competition and, accordingly, lower priced printers affordable to home users and hobbyists. The article explains that current low cost 3-D printers are really devices for testing concepts--their resolution is too poor for finished products. That will change with printers using laser sintering:

These patents cover a technology known as "laser sintering," the lowest-cost 3D-printing technology. Because of its high resolution in all three dimensions, laser sintering can produce goods that can be sold as finished products.

... With the expiration of patents on laser sintering 3D printing, however, all of that is about to change. Currently, designers who want to go from idea to finished product in a matter of hours, and create finished products to sell to the public--like these accessories for Google Glass--have to order 3D prints from a company like Shapeways. The problem is, Shapeways' services are in such demand that it takes two weeks to get a finished product from the company, which is hardly the future of instant manufacturing that 3D printing was supposed to enable.
 As to the price dropping, the article notes:

A similar sequence involving the lifting of intellectual property barriers, a rise in competition, and a huge drop in price is likely to play out again in laser deposition 3D printers, says Shapeways' Scott. "This is what happened with FDM," he says. "As soon as the patents expired, everything exploded and went open-source, and now there are hundreds of FDM machines on the market. An FDM machine was $14,000 five years ago and now it's $300."

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