2012, The Year 3D Printing Takes Off?

Monday, January 23, 2012

2012 may be the year of 3D printing, when this three-decade-old technology finally becomes accessible and even commonplace.  For many people, the age of 3-D printing has already arrived. For others, it's still in the future but getting nearer every day. If you're one of the latter group, 2012 would be a good year to learn how to print objects. Even a company that can't yet make money from this technique might want to get a feel for it now rather than try to scale the learning curve after its competitors have done so.

Rapid Prototyping (RP) is a common name given to a variety of technologies that are used to create three dimensional prototypes directly from CAD files or digitally scanned data. It is also known as 3D printing. In general the technologies create models of material in thin layers. These additive technologies offer advantages in many applications compared to subtractive fabrication methods such as milling, or turning and offer large cost savings for smaller production over injection moulding methods.

Artists and designers like Bathsheba Grossman are already using rapid prototyping technologies for their work as end products.  Industrial designer Scott Summit discusses the future of 3D Printing at Singularity University in the video below.

The available materials for this technology include polymers, resins, concrete, glass and even chocolate.  As prices on the technology continue to drop, there is a distinct possibility that 3D printing could become commonplace in business and the home.  Makerbot is already releasing an inexpensive 3D printer for hobbyists and small scale production.

In the TED video below, Lisa Harouni of Digital Forming gives a useful introduction to this fascinating way of making things -- including intricate objects once impossible to create.