Printer printing printer parts

November 10th, 2010

3D Printers are becoming cheaper every day.

3D Printers are becoming cheaper every day.

Nate Anderson at Ars Technica reports an interesting claim in this article about the legal and IP issues surrounding 3D printing technology. The makers of RepRap, an open-source 3D printing platform, claim that there are now more open-source 3D printers in operation now than there are commercial 3D printers. While the claim isn’t independently verified, it raises an interesting question: Will greater availability of inexpensive hardware create the critical mass of users that allow 3D printing to become a part of regular peoples lives? A lesson may be drawn from a similar revolution just ten years ago.

In the late 90′s, faster processors and broadband penetration predated the digital music revolution by several years. It was only after distribution channels (Napster) and presentation tools (WinAmp et al, followed by iTunes) matured that the way people produce, distribute and consume media truly evolved.

Just as college students swapping mp3s over university networks in the mid 90′s were half a decade ahead of the music industry, perhaps the popularity and strong community that have formed behind hobbyist 3D printer platforms are an indicator of things to come in the realm of tangible objects.

I have worked with 3D printers and the various tools that are available for duplicating, creating and editing the relatively specialized 3D geometry needed to create objects from them. From that experience I can say that while the challenges of hardware is primarily one of atoms (ie design a faster machine, develop better resolution, invent a wider variety of substrates etc) and solvable by traditional means. On the other hand, the challenge of the bits (how to develop flexible, usable and powerful tools that don’t require years of training and experience to use) is a lot more exciting and open-ended to me. Will we see exchanges like Google’s 3D Warehouse, or will companies spring up that specialize in creating, improving upon, and distributing 3D models of useful objects? Shapeways seems to fit this model, though I suspect at this point their service is a bit of a novelty and they are positioning themselves as a ‘creator of elegant curiosities’ rather than a ‘creator of unsexy-but-potentially-incredibly-useful objects.’

Read the full article at
Ars Technica – 3D fabbers: don’t let the DMCA stifle an innovative future

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