3D Printing: If You Can Imagine It, You Can Make It

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2013-09-30 Print this article Print

For enterprises, small businesses and consumers, 3D printers are about to change things. While companies in major manufacturing verticals such as automotive have been using million-dollar 3D printers for years, desktop printers are changing the pace at which engineers can design, iterate and innovate. "What a lot of people don't get yet is that it doesn't have to be about the final product. These desktop printers can augment the process," says Pete Basiliere, a research vice president at Gartner.  In a different business model, 3D printing company Shapeways makes industrial-grade printers available to small business owners and individuals, who can outsource to Shapeways the printing of everything from jewelry to furniture to robots. Desktop 3D printers are also making their way into schools and homes. Experts believe that as the machines become simpler to use, with more all-in-one functionality, and their prices drop, they're more likely to enter the mainstream and change the way consumers think about the things they own, the things they want and how they solve problems. The next generation of kids may understand intuitively that if they can dream something up, they can also make it.

  • 3D Printing: If You Can Imagine It, You Can Make It

    By Michelle Maisto
    0-3D Printing: If You Can Imagine It, You Can Make It
  • The MakerBot Replicator 2

    The Replicator 2 ($2,199) is the second generation of desktop 3D printers from Brooklyn-based MakerBot. "We like to keep it simple, bold," says CEO Bre Pettis. "We have a 'you can have it in any color as long as it's black' kind of style," Pettis grinned about the MakerBot lineup at a Sept. 20 event.
    1-The MakerBot Replicator 2
  • MakerBot Digitizer 3D Scanner

    On Sept. 20, MakerBot introduced the Digitizer, a $1,400 complement to its Replicators. In 12 minutes, the Digitizer can scan an object and create a digital model that a user can print or begin designing from. "The world would be so different if I'd had a 3D printer at age 10," said Pettis, when asked about the impact of the technologies. "I would have gotten so much farther in life faster and learned to make things so much more quickly."
    2-MakerBot Digitizer 3D Scanner
  • Microsoft Windows 8.1 Backs Desktop 3D Printing

    Early this summer, Microsoft previewed Windows 8.1, the first operating system to feature built-in support for 3D printing. Microsoft has partnered with a number of companies, including MakerBot and 3D Systems, which makes the Cube, shown here. The printer, which comes in a choice of five colors, can be purchased at Staples for $1,299.99
    3-Microsoft Windows 8.1 Backs Desktop 3D Printing
  • The Radiant Fabrication Lionhead Printer

    On Sept. 3, Wisconsin-based Radiant Fabrication introduced the Lionhead, calling it the "first consumer-level 3D printer to incorporate printing and 3D scanning into a single device packaged with Radiant Li, an intuitive and powerful 3D modeling software." A beta version, called the Lionhead Bunny, is priced at $1,649.
    4-The Radiant Fabrication Lionhead Printer
  • Speed and Ease of Use

    The Lionhead features four printheads, to speed up printing. Radiant's primary message, though, is that its printer—whose software interface was inspired by the controls for videos games like Minecraft—should be very, very easy to use. It tested the Lionhead Beta with school kids and found that most could create digital models within five minutes. Here, a close-up of the Lionhead Bunny.
    5-Speed and Ease of Use
  • The Formlabs Form 1

    Formlabs spun off from the MIT Media Lab in 2011 and on Sept. 13, 2013, announced that it had shipped its first 712 Form 1 ($3,299) 3D printers.
    6-The Formlabs Form 1
  • Forget the Plastic Spools

    The Form 1 uses stereolithography (SL) technology, which Formlabs says "approaches the highest resolution available in 3D printing" and blows away the performance of plastic extrusion printers, like MakerBot's. DreamWorks animator Robert Vignone uses the Form 1 to create physical sculptures (shown here) of his digital designs.
    7-Forget the Plastic Spools
  • Starting From Liquid

    Extrusion printers heat up a solid material, usually a plastic filament, and squirt it out of a tip (almost like a glue gun) to print. The Form 1 instead uses liquid resin, which the user pours into a tray. The printer works by pointing a high-precision laser at certain points, which solidify, while the build platform rises in time for the next solid layer to form.
    8-Starting From Liquid
  • Form 1's Stereolithography Technology

    Here, an image from an animation on the Formlabs site, showing how SL technology works. The printer automatically creates a light structure that adheres the printed item to the top of the build platform, which rises out of the resin. The two are easily separated.
    9-Form 1's Stereolithography Technology
  • The Shapeways Model

    In Queens, N.Y., Shapeways houses industrial 3D printers and accepts orders from consumers and small and large businesses alike. Shapeways can print in a variety of materials, from plastic to gold plating, silver and ceramics. This espresso cup was printed by Shapeways.
    10-The Shapeways Model
  • Shapeways Shops

    Shapeways hosts shops for more than 11,000 designers, whose Etsy-style stores are featured on the Shapeways Website. When an item is ordered from a store, Shapeways prints it, packages it and ships it. Pricing depends on the size of an object, not how detailed it is. Shapeways PR manager Elisa Richardson says it's often less expensive to print something than to buy it in a traditional shop.
    11-Shapeways Shops
  • Giving Rise to Small Businesses

    Shapeways' Richardson says the company has a lot of customers who have quit their jobs to focus full time on their Shapeways Shops. "They have no inventory, no stock, and they're able to focus on designing," she told eWEEK. Regarding how exposure to the technology has changed her thinking, she said, "Now, I literally rethink everything in my life." (Here, iPhone cases from the Vibe Shapeways Shop.)
    12-Giving Rise to Small Businesses
  • 3D Printing Goes Mainstream

    As large enterprises are discovering the benefits of desktop printers—Ford, for example, plans to put one on the desk of each of its engineers—consumers are also becoming familiar with the technology's possibilities. In July, eBay introduced eBay Exact, an iPhone app that lets users choose and customize a product, which is then printed and shipped by one of three partners: MakerBot, Hot Pop Factory or Sculpteo.
    13-3D Printing Goes Mainstream

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