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3D printers could be next notable tech stride

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Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 8:21 am

As smartphones tablets and high definition television have become part of our daily lives, the question now is what tech innovation is next? The answer may be from an unlikely source – printing.

3D printing, the newest innovation in manufacturing, looks to revolutionize the way we create things. It is only a matter of time before there is a 3D printer in every hobbyist’s garage.

3D printers work using the additive process, meaning material is put down one layer at a time until an object is formed. It works much like a standard inkjet printer, but in three dimensions.

The traditional process for creating 3D objects is either to make a mold, which can be time consuming, or to use a CNC machine, which is large and very expensive. Both of these methods require a lot of training and technical knowledge, and are not suited to the needs of the average person.

To create a 3D object to print on a 3D printer, there are many free applications that are easy to use. Trimble has an application called SketchUp, which used to be produced by Google and Autodesk offers all of their software free for non-commercial use.

With these programs, anyone can create objects to be printed with a 3D printer. Anything from an iPhone case to a bust of Socrates can be printed if you spend the time and create it on your computer.

There are constant innovations for both the software and the hardware involved with 3D printing, as developers try to make it as easy as possible for the consumer. It will not be long until printing out a picture frame is as easy as printing out the picture to go inside it.

As 3D printing grows in popularity, the price continues to drop as well. Printers that cost under $1,000 today are more capable than $5,000 printers from a couple years ago.

Just as the price of computers and smartphones has fallen, so to will the price of 3D printers.

If you are looking to get into 3D printing early and try it for yourself, there are a few manufacturers that would be happy to sell you a 3D printer.

MakerBot Industries, a small company based out of Brooklyn, has been making 3D printers since 2009. Their most recent model is called the Replicator 2, and it retails for $2,200.

Their older, less sophisticated models are selling for around $500 on eBay.

Form 1, a 3D printer from Formlabs, is another popular model from the project-funding website Kickstarter. It is selling for $2,300 and up, but is mostly sold out at this point until production starts.

The Form 1 is a much sleeker and consumer-friendly design, compared to any of the products from MakerBot, and promises higher resolution 3D printing using lasers in a process called stereolithography.

3D printers will never be as ubiquitous as smartphones, but it will not be long before they appeaer in people’s garages sitting on their workbench. 3D printers are here, and they are getting better by the minute.

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