Monday, May 07, 2007
... to a Home
Office Factory Near You!
I recall seeing a very primitive, early version of one of these in an industrial museum in Europe about twenty years ago. (I think it was in West Germany.) The item it was laboriously making looked more like a three-dimensional contour map than a smooth, attractive, "normal" object, and it seemed like it would take all day for it to be done, too. The aesthetic difference between then and now reminds me of the difference in graphics quality between the early Atari video games and World of Warcraft, square edges and all.
I was vaguely aware that these were seeing industrial use, but I was pleasantly surprised and mildly intrigued to learn that three-dimensional printers will soon be cheap enough to have in your own home:
Three-dimensional printers have been seen in industrial design shops for about a decade. They are used to test part designs for cars, airplanes, and other products before they are sent to manufacturing. Once well over $100,000 each, such machines can now be had for $15,000. In the next two years, prices are expected to fall further, putting the printers in reach of small offices and even corner copy stores.It's that last line I like. Anything to save me from making a needless trip to the store is a winner in my book!
The next frontier will be the home. One company that wants to be the first to deliver a 3-D printer for consumers is Desktop Factory, started by IdeaLab. The company will start selling its first printer for $4,995 this year.
Bill Gross, chairman of IdeaLab, says the technology it has developed, which uses a halogen light bulb to melt nylon powder, will allow the price of the printers to fall to $1,000 in four years.
"We are Easy-Bake Ovening a 3-D model," he said. "The really powerful thing about this idea is that the fundamental engineering allows us to make it for $300 in materials."
Others are working on the same idea.
"In the future, everyone will have a printer like this at home," said Hod Lipson, a professor at Cornell University, who has led a project that published a design for a 3-D printer that can be made with about $2,000 in parts. "You can imagine printing a toothbrush, a fork, a shoe. Who knows where it will go from here?" [bold added]
5-8-07: Replaced original, already-expired link from the Houston Chronicle with one from the New York Times. For the curious, CNN runs a similar story.