This post was written by Brian Martinez and Pete Walton from MadeSolid.
Remember the opening scene of Small Soldiers? With a futuristic machine filled with lasers and liquid plastic they create a new toy in mere seconds.
Those machines are real. They are small. They are affordable. Though much slower, 3D printers are entering into everyday life and are no longer stuck in company labs. People now have printers in their homes, in their schools, and even in their cars. Just this past weekend at a local Mini-Maker Faire, I had a 4th Grader drop some knowledge from what he learned from an afterschool 3D Printing class. *Mind-Blown*
How is it that 3D printers are starting to show up everywhere? Out of the myriad of factors for their growth, here are 3 big reasons why this “futuristic” technology has made its way into our present day:
Increased Public Awareness
Did you know that 3D Printer technology has actually been around for decades? Some patents for the technology go back nearly 30 years. But recent advancements and applications have exploded its media coverage. Before 2009 there were very few consumer level machines being made; however, now there are dozens of companies producing consumer grade machines at all levels. Cheaper parts, expiring patents, and a rising community of Makers are all contributing factors to the growing presence of 3D printers in the mainstream.
There have also been spectacular applications to 3D printing with prints made for a number of industries. The fashion industry has produced unique dresses. Nike has printed a new kind of shoe for NFL teams. NASA has shot printers up into space. The medical field has printed over 40,000 hip socket replacements. Jewelers can print wax castings. It’s even used in making entire cars. The empowering nature of printing has intertwined itself in so many industries that there are progressively more innovations to create.
Even keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in the industry is as simple as doing an online search. Results reveal dozens of variations and developments in the field: 3D printer pens, cheaper FDM printers, printed products, and even smartphone apps that can scan real objects to create a print file!
Crowd Sourced Innovation
The surge of a 3D Maker community is not surprising. It’s common for open-source communities to pop up around technology niches, and hardware is no exception. However, the rise of crowd-sourcing websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, have empowered innovators of these communities to bring their creations to the masses.
Take a look at the Form1 Printer, the most successful technology Kickstarter campaign in history. Raising roughly $3,000,000, Formlabs is able to expedite their entry into the 3D-space and increase the public’s access to printers. It’s hard to imagine that sort of penetration without access to an open community of backers on a crowd-sourcing website.
Even our own Indiegogo campaign is leveraging the power of crowd-sourcing to enable the public to get their hands on new high-quality 3D printing materials, expanding their ability to turn what they have envisioned into reality.
In just the past few years, 3D Printers have broken away from the enterprise into the consumer space. Since Makerbot’s machines hit the scene in 2009, many other similar kinds of FDM printers have popped up. The introduction of new companies into the space has pushed FDM machines to drop from $14,000 to less than $1,000.
There have also been recent advancements in SLA printers, which use a laser to solidify liquid plastic. Although the previously mentioned Form1 comes in around $3300, other SLA printers have come in at a significantly lower cost. The Peachy Printer comes in at $100 and Lumifold at $400.
This means printers are now easily accessible to schools, small business, or avid tinkerers.
Even though the core of the technology is 20+ years old, it’s still in its infant stages. As more industries use it, more crowd-sourcing campaigns fund it, and more people are able to afford it, 3D printing will have an increasing presence in our lives.