When 3-D printing first arrived on the consumer market a few years back, it seemed like something out of a science fiction movie. Now consumers have gotten used to the idea that 3-D printing can create physical objects based on 3-D models that are either created or downloaded from the computer. Also the 3-D printers themselves have gotten a lot cheaper while its functionality remains to get more creative at the same time.
In early 2014, there were many patents filed for the newest advancements in 3-D printing technology. There is a new feature patented called “laser sintering,” which is going to allow the cheapest printers to create high-resolution 3-D physical objects that resemble the real-life objects they were based on. In fact, laser sintering will allow people to create objects so realistic that they can be resold as regular products. This makes the 3-D printer a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs who want to go into business for themselves by reselling hard products. Instead of hiring a team of workers and renting a warehouse to manufacture items, they can just invest in a 3-D printer with laser sintering that can do all the manufacturing work for them.
However, an older form of 3-D modeling called “fused deposition modeling” is making its way to the consumer market at affordable prices. Fused deposition modeling, or FDM, was a machine that used to be used by commercial companies and would cost around $14,000. But ever since other forms of 3-D printing technology came out at cheaper prices, the patents on the FDM expired and that technology became open source. This allowed 3-D printer manufacturers, such as Makerbot, to create new version of FDM printers for the consumer market. Now instead of paying $14,000, people can buy these printers for as little as $300.
So far these 3-D printers are only suitable for hobbyists that want to create simple objects and novelties but it still represents a discovery in affordable 3-D printing technology that will likely spawn more affordable 3-D printing innovations in the near future. The only thing preventing 3-D printers from becoming more common among computer users is the limited functionality in the objects that it creates. 3-D printing companies hope to create 3-D printers for consumers that can actually create objects with functional parts inside of them. This technology already exists in a commercial setting, but those printers still cost $10,000 – $30,000. But we have already seen how FDM printers got more affordable within just 5 years, so anything is possible at this point.