Saturday, May 12, 2007

3D Printing, Rapid Prototyping Coming Your Way

A company called IdeaLabs has come out with the cheapest 3D printer yet, called the Desktop Factory. 3D printers are low-end rapid prototyping machines which are now starting to radically drop in price. The higher-end machines are larger and can look similar to photocopy machines:

Even though it still retains the word "prototyping" in it due to its origins in making quick mockups over 20 years ago, the technology has gradually evolved to the point of being able to directly manufacture full-strength quality parts having complex geometries unachievable by more traditional machining methods. The most cutting-edge rapid prototyping techniques, such as E-Beam Melting, can be used to manufacture production-quality high-strength aerospace parts.

With the cost of 3D printers coming down, they are a disruptive technology forecasted to cause a radical change in the manufacturing landscape akin to what the desktop publishing revolution did for the print industry. These devices are increasingly in reach of the small business, and soon to the ordinary consumer as well.

So for those of you who are concerned that Indian manufacturing in the future will only run rampant to trap us in a world of smoggy smokestacks, toxic waste sites and mass over-production/over-consumption, recognize that on the advanced end of the evolutionary chain awaits a time of calibrated exacting use of materials, limited production runs of sophisticated products, and quality over quantity.