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What you need to know about 3D printers for today and tomorrow

Galen Gruman | March 4, 2014
Beyond the hype, there are real uses for this technology, but also some key barriers yet to be addressed

These scanners are essentially cameras that stitch together the images to create a surface map of the object — which brings us back to the figurine issue. Because these scanners see only the surface, they send to a 3D printer simply a set of instructions for a shape that is colored to match what you see but is internally made of all the same material, such as a figurine. These scans can't be used to create a multiple-material object, so more functional objects will still need to be generated from 3D CAD drawings, then sent to a multiple-material printer.

3D's future is a niche one
Few notions can be guaranteed to excite techies. 3D is one of those. Remember the endless blather around 3D TVs in the early 2010s? In the real world, 3D television has gone nowhere. Some believe 3D printing is destined for the same fate. I don't agree with them; the requirement to wear 3D glasses is a big factor in the failure of 3D TV, whereas there's no such awkward requirement for 3D printing. But I do believe that 3D printing is inherently a niche, both for consumers and businesses.

Assuming affordability, 3D printing of figurines, simple objects, and the like makes sense for people who do crafts or DIY projects (the Maker crowd). Like any hobbyist, they'll invest in tools that let them pursue their hobbies.

For businesses, 3D printing certainly makes sense for product development, such as to visualize prototypes. That's nothing new — for decades, companies have created models of cars, computers, and so on using traditional methods like physical model-making and carving, then NC-based automated carving, and now onscreen 3D renders. 3D printers will simplify that effort for physical objects, allowing a wider range of businesses and people within businesses do such prototyping.

If multiple-material printers become affordable enough, we'll see custom parts generation arrive as a business opportunity at your local Home Depot, as well as auto and appliance repair shops. Maybe we'll even see that putative Amazon 3D printer box in your home.

I don't see 3D printing becoming as ubiquitous as 2D printing was in its heyday. But it doesn't have to be.

Source: InfoWorld


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