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Laser Sintering and FDM For Consumer 3D Printing

When 3D 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 3d printing can create physical objects based on 3d models that are either created or downloaded from the computer. Also the 3d printers themselves have gotten a lot cheaper while its functionality remains to get more innovative at the same time.

Laser Sintering Micro Objects
Tiny objects made possible by Laser Sintering. (photo courtesy of additivemanufacturing.com)

In early 2014, there were numerous patents filed for the newest advancements in 3d printing technology. There is a new feature patented called “laser sintering,” which is going to allow the cheapest printers to create high resolution 3d 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 3d 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 3d printer with laser sintering that can do all of the manufacturing work for them.

Softkill Design’s ‘ProtoHouse’ is an impressive exploration and boundary pushing design study into Selective Laser Sintering technology and 3D printing.  The projects appearance is a fibrous structure that is actually made up of 30 puzzle pieces that form together this futuristic prototype home.   The design itself appears as an organic organism that forms the structure, furniture, and facade of the building.
Softkill Design’s ‘ProtoHouse’ is an impressive exploration and boundary pushing design study into Selective Laser Sintering technology and 3D printing. The projects appearance is a fibrous structure that is actually made up of 30 puzzle pieces that form together this futuristic prototype home. The design itself appears as an organic organism that forms the structure, furniture, and facade of the building.

However, an older form of 3d 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 3d printing technology came out at cheaper prices, the patents on the FDM expired and that technology became open source. This allowed 3d printer manufacturers, such as Makerbot, to create new version of FDM printers for the consumer market. Now instead of paying $14,000, people can purchase these printers for as little as $300.

FDM1650
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is a rapid prototyping methodology which extrudes semi-liquid ABS plastic material to fill a cross section of the part. A temperature-controlled head extrudes thermoplastic material layer by layer. The designed object emerges as a solid three-dimensional part without the need for tooling. (photo courtesy of Stratasys)

So far all of these 3d printers are only suitable for hobbyists that want to create simple objects and novelties but it still represents a breakthrough in affordable 3d printing technology that will likely spawn more affordable 3d printing innovations in the near future. The only thing preventing 3d printers from becoming more common amongst computer users is the limited functionality in the objects that it creates. 3d printing companies hope to create 3d 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.