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Saturday, July 16, 2011 11:34 AM

3-D "Printing" Technology Will Blow Your Mind

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3-D printing has been around for a while but most have probably not seen or heard of it. The term "printing" is a misnomer. The results are something more akin to what you might see out of a Star-Trek replicator.

URL if above video does not play: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZboxMsSz5Aw&feature=player_embedded

The video will stun you if you have not seen this technology before.

Manufacturing Revolution

3-D "printing" can create artificial limbs for $1,000 that have more features and functionality than $60,000 limbs.

Please consider this New York Times article from last year: 3-D Printing Spurs a Manufacturing Revolution

Businesses in the South Park district of San Francisco generally sell either Web technology or sandwiches and burritos. Bespoke Innovations plans to sell designer body parts.

The company is using advances in a technology known as 3-D printing to create prosthetic limb casings wrapped in embroidered leather, shimmering metal or whatever else someone might want.

Scott Summit, a co-founder of Bespoke, and his partner, an orthopedic surgeon, are set to open a studio this fall where they will sell the limb coverings and experiment with printing entire customized limbs that could cost a tenth of comparable artificial limbs made using traditional methods. And they will be dishwasher-safe, too.

A 3-D printer, which has nothing to do with paper printers, creates an object by stacking one layer of material — typically plastic or metal — on top of another, much the same way a pastry chef makes baklava with sheets of phyllo dough.

A California start-up is even working on building houses. Its printer, which would fit on a tractor-trailer, would use patterns delivered by computer, squirt out layers of special concrete and build entire walls that could be connected to form the basis of a house.

A typical 3-D printer can cost from $10,000 to more than $100,000. Stratasys and 3D Systems are among the industry leaders. And MakerBot Industries sells a hobbyist kit for under $1,000.

As 3-D printing machines have improved and fallen in cost along with the materials used to make products, new businesses have cropped up.

Freedom of Creation, based in Amsterdam, designs and prints exotic furniture and other fixtures for hotels and restaurants. It also makes iPhone cases for Apple, eye cream bottles for L’Oreal and jewelry and handbags for sale on its Web site.

“We used to take two months to build $100,000 models,” said Charles Overy, the founder of LGM. “Well, that type of work is gone because developers aren’t putting up that type of money anymore.”

Now, he said, he is building $2,000 models using an architect’s design and homegrown software for a 3-D printer. He can turn around a model in one night.

Mr. Summit and his partner, Kenneth B. Trauner, the orthopedic surgeon, have built some test models of full legs that have sophisticated features like body symmetry, locking knees and flexing ankles. One artistic design is metal-plated in some areas and leather-wrapped in others.

“It costs $5,000 to $6,000 to print one of these legs, and it has features that aren’t even found in legs that cost $60,000 today,” Mr. Summit said.

“We want the people to have input and pick out their options,” he added. “It’s about going from the Model T to something like a Mini that has 10 million permutations.”
3-D Printers, Your Next Home Accessory

CNNMoney reports 3-D printers will be your next home accessory
Imagine being able to print your own shoes or keys. Some top engineers are betting that home fabrication machines could soon be as common in the household as toaster ovens.

They sound cutting-edge, but 3-D printers have been around for more than 20 years. Until recently, they've been multimillion-dollar machines used mainly by manufacturers like automobile and aerospace companies. Now, the technology has evolved far enough that cheap devices are making 3-D printing accessible to the masses, spurring all types of creativity. Hobbyists are printing their own action figures, doctors have used the systems to print artificial organs, and chefs are testing out ways to print gourmet meals.

Rajeev Kulkarni, vice president of global engineering at 3D Systems, estimates that the cheapest printers five years ago ranged from $25,000 to $50,000. Now, they're available for as little as $1,000.

Georgia Tech research scientist Grant Schindler is already building tools for the wave of home 3-D hobbyists he sees emerging. He recently released an iPhone app that allows users to scan and print models of their faces on home fabrication machines.

He thinks 3-D printers will really take off when average people find the right use for them.

"It's more like 10 years before it comes really common," he said. "And there has to be a killer app -- maybe jewelry is it. There needs to be something that everyone wants, that everyone says 'I need this 3-D printer.'"
Small Business Opportunities for Designers

CNN Money did a follow-up article 3-D printers launch small businesses
They are machines straight out of ''Star Trek'' or ''The Jetsons.''

It's now possible for anyone with an idea to create tangible items -- flowerpots, cell phone cases, jewelry, or nearly anything -- from 3-D printers. All the person has to do is send a design for a product to a 3-D printer and out pops a real 3-D object.

Most 3-D printer owners are big businesses or tinkerers, because the machines are so expensive. But some innovators are using this technology to start new businesses and earn money.

Andreas, an IT guy in Austria who didn't want his last name used for this article, started out as a hobbyist. He customizes Lego ''minifigs'' -- the plastic characters that come with a Lego toy set -- to create historically accurate dioramas, or three-dimensional models.

Lego had stopped making a specific hat that made his Napoleonic figures accurate. With no experience in product design and no access to a factory, he designed a new hat and had it 3-D printed.

The resulting product was so popular among other Lego customizers, he now sells the hats along with hundreds of other items through a service called Shapeways, which manufactures items with its 3-D printers and sells and distributes them through its website.

About 10% of the 2,000 designers selling through Shapeways are making ''decent money'' -- with the most popular bringing in excess of thousands of dollars a month, says CEO Peter Weijmarshausen. He concedes that's not really a lot of money yet, "but I see this year, the more successful designers will make a living at it.''
This is damn cool. It is obviously price deflationary as well. What used to be extremely expensive to model and work through design changes in terms of both price and time, is now easy and inexpensive.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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