You may not be familiar with the term 3D printing but I bet you remember the replicator from Star Trek. Well kiddies, it is no longer just science fiction. Replication exists! Analog Science Fiction and Fact had a great article in the November 2008 edition called: “The 3D Train Wreck”. Thomas A. Easton, the author gave a great overview of the future of 3D printing.
Simplistically, take your 3 dimensional CAD drawing and print it out on a laser printer that will print layers with some type of raw material. Each layer is adhered to the previous layer until you have a full three dimensional finished product. There are a variety of existing technologies that are doing this right now. Rapid-prototyping in industry is the biggest market right at the moment.
Consider how incredibly convenient it would be to fabricate or replicate things right at home. My Polaris pool sweep needed a part yesterday. The part is unavailable, without the part the sweep doesn’t work. The alternative was to buy a new sweep for $500.00. If I had a 3D printer, I could have paid to download the schematic for the part, replicated it and been done for a lot less than $500.00.
Yeah, but this stuff is still way out there, no, not exactly. Idea lab is taking orders now for the Desktop Factory for $4,995.00. It fabricates composite plastic powder fused by a halogen light source. The volume of the initial products will be restricted to 5”x5”x5”. The Desktop Factory 3D printer is about the same size as early laser printers with the initial product measuring about 25 x 20 x 20 inches and weighing less than 90 lbs. That is just about the same size as my first HP LaserJet. The price sounds like a lot of bucks but remember what a desktop computer cost just 10 years ago, let alone 20 years ago. Demand and competition will drive the prices down and as the volume of sales increase.
Fab @ Home is a site dedicated to the promotion and development of fabbers, machines that can make almost anything right on your desktop. Much like the early computers, you can build your own fabricator. YouTube has a good video on the home built fabber.
Early home users will be geeks, just like the early computer users. As the industry and products mature, we will all jump on the bandwagon. The home replicator will be as ubiquitous as the home computer. The future is now!
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