The meteoric rise of 3D printing has paved the way for a new generation of Internet entrepreneurs, Makers and do-it-yourself (DIY) manufacturers. So it comes as little surprise that the lucrative 3D printing industry is on track to be worth a staggering $3 billion by 2016.
“Information technology in manufacturing is really transforming what’s possible,” explained Irene Petrick, a senior lecturer at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST). “3D printing just changes how we think about who a manufacturer is in the first place. I don’t have to be an engineer to design and I don’t have to be a traditional manufacturer to produce… [So] it’s really not the existing manufacturers [who] are going to drive how the future of manufacturing evolves.”
“When the original printer died last year we found out it would cost $8,000 to fix. The new 3D printer, a MakerBot Replicator 2, costs under $2,500. The material used to build objects is also less expensive with the Replicator,” said 3D visualization researcher Wade Shumaker. “The fact that the Replicator is more affordable opens it up to a wider base of users, and there is a much larger community of users which has arisen and become a very open source group of DIYers.”
As Shumaker notes, the DIY open source mindset has prompted users to share 3D objects they’ve designed.
“This has led to sites like www.thingiverse.com and www.makezine.com, where you can find 3D objects to download for free and to buy which include everything from functional items (knobs, handles, iPhone holders, bottle openers) to art (jewelry, sculptures, toys) to medical supplies (braces, ID bracelets, hemostats, models of organs),” he continued. “I think what you’re going to find over the next few years is 3D printing is going to become a little more mainstream. When people break something, instead of going out and buying a replacement, they’re going to print it out.”
As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the DIY Maker Movement has been using Atmel-powered 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for some time now. However, 3D printing recently entered a new and important stage in a number of spaces including the medical sphere, architectural arena, science lab and even on the battlefield.