3D printing… have you heard of it? Do you understand what it is? There’s been quite a bit of controversy surrounding it, since it has the potential to massively disrupt manufacturing and commerce as we know it. Right now, high end 3D laser sintering printers that are capable of producing detailed, complicated products that are ready to be sold costs tens of thousands of dollars and just aren’t with reach for most people.
However, that is likely to change in 2014. You see, right now there are key patents in place that are keeping competition at bay. But in February 2014, that’s going to change. These key patents are going to expire. They protect the technology and process known as “laser sintering”.
What happens then? The price of these machines could drop drastically. 3D printing isn’t brand new technology, but laser sintering is far more advanced than what we had before. The former process of 3D printing is called “fused deposition modeling”. When the key patents on it expired, open-source FDM printers flooded the market. What once cost many thousands of dollars could suddenly be bought for a few hundred.
Hobbyists flocked to them, creating their goods one at a time. But the products produced aren’t commercial-quality ones that are finished and ready to be sold. Laser sintering is different. It can produce items that are finished, commercial-quality and ready to be sold.
You could print your own clothes, household items, instruments and more. Here’s an acoustic guitar that was created. What about a beautiful hanging chandelier-type light? Yep, that is done here. There’s even been a real, working, metal gun created. If you have the money, there are sites where you can upload your own idea and 3D designs to have them printed for you. One of the biggest sites that provides this service is Shapeways.
Can you imagine how this could disrupt retail stores and manufacturers as we know it? What if instead of always trying to find the best deals on home improvement products, you just printed your own? What if instead of looking for inexpensive electric radiators, you just printed your own?
Of course, there’s no way to tell for certain what the price on this technology will drop to. Then once it does, you have to consider the cost of creating or hiring someone to create 3D plans that you can feed to the printer. Lastly, how much money it saves you in the long run could largely depend on what you’re making and what materials you’ll be using to create your new “printouts”. But it’s nothing short of amazing to me that we could, within a very short period of time, be printing our own products instead of buying them. What do you think?