Why the Mysterious Process of 3D Printing Could Enable Big Business

 
 
By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2015-03-20
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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    Why the Mysterious Process of 3D Printing Could Enable Big Business
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    Why the Mysterious Process of 3D Printing Could Enable Big Business

    By Chris Preimesberger
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    XYZprinting's da Vinci 1.0
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    XYZprinting's da Vinci 1.0

    3D printing proponents claim that the process will change the way we produce everything—from automobiles to prosthetics to food. It also can change the way we do business in industries ranging from high tech to health care. Founded in 2013, China-based XYZprinting is dedicated to bringing cost-effective 3D printing to customers around the world. XYZprinting's first printer, the $499-priced da Vinci 1.0, won the CES 2014 Editors' Choice Award for being the most affordable 3D printing machinery.
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    ProtoCafe
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    ProtoCafe

    Redwood City, Calif.-based ProtoCafe claims to have developed the 3D printing market in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has provided design, rapid prototyping and manufacturing services for the past 10 years. ProtoCafe provides its customers with end-to-end solutions from concept to prototype, through design iterations, to low- and mid-volume production.
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    Airwolf 3D
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    Airwolf 3D

    Airwolf, based in Costa Mesa, Calif., sells ($4,595) and leases ($99/month) its machines. The company's all-new HDR desktop 3D printer features high-resolution, dual-head printing capabilities, WiFi connectivity, cloud-based slicing and printing via an 8-inch tablet interface and a rigid aluminum backbone. The HDR is the first model in Airwolf 3D's lineup to feature this ground-breaking cloud-based technology and allows the user not only to print from the cloud, but also to slice and store files. Simply choose the file, choose the material and resolution, and print.
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    Type A Machines
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    Type A Machines

    Here's a close-up of the Series 1 3D printer from San Leandro, Calif.-based Type A Machines. The company claims it offers durability, modularity and one of the largest build volumes in its class. Type A Machines was founded in San Francisco by Andrew Rutter, now the company's CTO, in January 2012, when his wife requested he move his 3D printer off their dining room table. To accommodate the daily trek to the office, he modified his printer and developed a telescopic design that could more easily fit in the trunk of his compact car without sacrificing build volume. His knack for improving technology and design for practicality and ease of use quickly caught the eye of other makers, and Type A Machines was born.
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    Voxel8
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    Voxel8

    Founded by Harvard engineering professor Jennifer Lewis and the University of Illinois (both universities hold an equity stake in the company), Voxel8 is the first desktop electronics printer that can print both thermoplastics and conductive ink. Voxel8 is aiming to expand the universe of printed products to include electronics. Lewis' team members at Voxel8 have already printed a functioning quad copter and 3D circuit boards. The printer can also make near-field antennas, USB flash drives and other objects with embedded electronics, the company said. It's available for preorder for $8,999.
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    Tiertime, Asia's Largest 3D Printer Maker
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    Tiertime, Asia's Largest 3D Printer Maker

    Beijing-based Tiertime has rolled out its industrial-level 3D printer product Inspire series, the desktop 3D printer product UP series, with respective 3D printing software and printing material. Tiertime's 3D printer has been used in aerospace, aviation, medical treatment, manufacturing, education, design and fashion. It also is widely engaged in customized production, product sample design and model printing, product display, market research, educational experience and DIY work practice.
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    Samples of Objects That Can Be Prototyped by 3D Printers
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    Samples of Objects That Can Be Prototyped by 3D Printers

    These include virtually anything you can name. Some of the examples on the table here are shoes, parts for smartphones, belts, toys, headphones, lightbulbs, small household tools and many others.
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    Additive Manufacturing
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    Additive Manufacturing

    Additive manufacturing—the industrial version of 3D printing—is already used to make some niche items, such as medical implants, and to produce plastic prototypes for engineers and designers. But the decision to mass-produce a critical metal-alloy part to be used in thousands of jet engines is a significant milestone for the technology. While 3D printing for consumers and small entrepreneurs has received a great deal of publicity, it is in manufacturing where the technology could have its most significant commercial impact, thought leaders said.
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    Shapify
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    Shapify

    Palo Alto, Calif.-based Shapify has a walk-in 3D printing business. One can stroll in to its showroom on University Avenue, get a full body scan in 12 seconds, see a preview within seven minutes and then take home a doll-like likeness in seven days. Sizes range from 4.5 inches in height to 9 inches, and the corresponding prices go from $79 to $199.
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    Bonus Feature: Apartment Built Using 3D Printing
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    Bonus Feature: Apartment Built Using 3D Printing

    Shanghai-based construction firm WinSun Decoration Design Engineering unveiled a five-storey apartment building made with a giant 3D printer. With a terra cotta brick-like exterior, the building is on display at the Suzhou Industrial Park, along with a 1,100-square-meter (11,840-square-foot) 3D-printed neoclassical mansion. The buildings were made with a patented "ink" created from a mixture of recycled construction waste, coursed through a 150-meter long printer. (Photo courtesy of 3Ders.org)
 

Most people still don't get 3D printing. They don't understand how a physical form can be created right before one's eyes inside a small glass-walled box using whatever magic happens inside that desktop device. This is not a new manufacturing sector, however; 3D printing has been around for almost 30 years, used by a wide range of product manufacturers, aerospace companies and others. The main purpose is to quickly design and produce prototypes, molds, one-off parts and more without having to invest lots of money and time. However, in the past five or six years, 3D printing has been growing much faster as enterprises of all sizes find out they can buy a device for as little as $500 and begin trying out new ideas they never dreamed of in the past. Last year, spending on 3D printing and additive manufacturing hit $3.1 billion dollars, according to a report from industry analyst group Wohlers Associates. In San Jose, on March 16, the IEEE Computer Society held a symposium and product expo in which about a dozen 3D printer makers and a number of industry thought leaders discussed the future of this IT and manufacturing sector that shows so much promise. (Photos by Chris Preimesberger, eWEEK)

 
 
 
 
 
Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on Salesforce.com and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz
 
 
 
 
 
 

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