The age of being able to print off anything - from washing machine parts to shoes - in your home is approaching.
For years 3D printers, which build solid objects layer by layer using computer models, came with a price tag that made them unaffordable to anyone outside big business.
Today, there are a slew of 3D printers aimed at the home market, many of which are based on the open-source RepRap printers. TechRepublic has rounded up 10 machines for fabricating items at home.
3D printing noobs should be aware that not only do many of these machines ship as kits that have to be built by the user, most are more complicated to operate than your standard 2D printer.
Running costs are also not cheap. Most of the printers build objects using filament, typically made of ABS or PLA plastics. A one-kilogram coil of these plastics costs in the region of $70.
If you do pick up a 3D printer and are lacking inspiration, check out the Thingiverse, a collection of free designs for printable objects.
The Cube 3D, shown above, is a printer designed to make building plastic objects as easy as running off a copy of a document.
The $1,299 device can print items as large as 5.5 inches cubed. It prints in one colour at a time, squeezing molten plastic from its nozzle, and can produce 10 different shades.
The Cube is designed to be easy to use, with cartridges that clip into place and software that turns 3D computer models into a form the printer can understand. The software handles models in the STL format, which is output by most CAD packages.
Designs for objects that can be printed using the Cube are available through its dedicated online store.
Users can tweak ready-made designs for printable objects, such as toys and jewellery, using a selection of apps.
Print time is proportional to the size and complexity of the object being built, but the manufacturer says an iPhone case will take about two to three hours to print.
Each cartridge will print 13 to 15 phone case-sized objects before it needs replacing.
Photo: 3D Systems Corporation
Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.
Not sure you Barbie "lovers" appreciate the scale of this. These machines will be printing aluminium ( 660c Melting point ) within 3 years and other sintered metals within 10. At the moment you yanks are still fairly good at design but are getting everything made in China. This technology offers you a chance to save your national economy. There going to be a mad scramble to 3D-Scan everthing, (imagine the copyright privacy issue's when you can down load a new set of carbs for a 67-vette) Also think about nano=faxing, with a 3D scanner one end and a 3D printer the other or going down to a bodyshop and having a new fender printed ...awesome http://www.jaylenosgarage.com/extras/articles/jay-lenos-3d-printer-replaces-rusty-old-parts-1 or read All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson Recycling is really going to get a boost as well, who's going to want to throw away aluminium or plastic when you get use it as a Toner-Refill instead.
Crap method of presentation - a shame that I only get to view the first model as I will not click screen by screen to view the range
WoW ! soon I can make my own shoes. Maybe in a few years i will be able to print my own computer. How cool is that.
I can almost smell the toy forgeries being hawked on ebay now. I wonder if thats even a viable market? Then again i can now replace all the broken and missing parts from my micronauts, transformers, g.i. joes, etc. And thats just my first thoughts on a sluggish monday morning with no coffee.
It's astonishing as a few years ago the cheapest (EDIT: 3D) printers were in the price range of a new car. Now they're even cheaper than buying a small mill and modify it to CNC. Although the CNC mill will enable it's owner to make aluminum/copper/brass/steel parts. I'm referring here at an X3-sized (Sieg X3 or Grizzly GO463 or other clone), fitted with ballscrews, Gecko G540 motor driver, 3 stepper motors and either the open-source EMC2 or the cheap but effective Mach3 CNC control software. Search Youtube for "X3 CNC" for some real action footage. The printers also have the advantage of being complete machines, even if "some assembly is required". They probably come with some warranty too, which is definitely not the case for a DIY CNC conversion.
By a canyon sized margin, the easiest to learn, lowest cost 3D modeling program out there is Viacad 2D/3D. It's prices vary by retailer and there are often coupon codes which bring it down to dirt cheap prices. Make a quick search and you'll see what I mean about the cost. It contains a subset of tools found in several thousand dollar CAD programs and more than you need to get a truly wide range of jobs done. Did I mention it's easy to learn? The easiest by far, but give yourself a month to get proficient enough for accurate production. I have to warn you though, 3D modeling can be addictive!
Once spare parts can be fabricated for a variety of machines wouldn't you run into difficulties with assembly, as many of these products will not have been designed to be taken apart and reassembled by the consumer. I guess that it will be beholden on the manufacturer to redesign products for relative ease of assembly, although can't see a commercial motivation for doing so, or maybe there will be a movement to make open-source alternatives that are easy to assemble.
The feedstock for these machines generally needs to be very pure, so recycling is still going to need a factory or some sort. Once the whole thing ramps up, I think this will be a major part of the market. Send us your old prints and we'll send it back as feedstock so you can make something new. I guess as we get further down the track, the recycling process will be miniaturized so we can have our own, but that's going to require the economies of scale that we see in the PC industry. Thinking about it, the PC revolution is probably a good model for what we'll see with 3D printing. First the geeks and the curious hobbyists get into it with the devices from this article which are much like the sort of "personal computers" you could buy or build back in the late 70's. Later we'll see some standardisation, more reliable and versatile printers that don't need as much skill to use, much like the original IBM PC and it's clones. Can't wait. This looks like a great toy to keep me entertained in my retirement years.
$1100 or so it a bargain compared to the five-figure prices just a few years ago, or compared to a decade ago when such devices were still under development.
Most internal parts (those you don't see and that have a tendency to break; pump, valves and all) are made of plastic. It's true even though the exterior and interior are made of stainless.
Don't forget Alibre Personnal Edition, it also costs $99. I don't know about Viacad but Alibre is a fully parametric 3D (solid) CAD software.
Are capable of making that assembly assembled with moving parts. These would be the ultimate unrepairable things as it's impossible to pull them apart they have no screws just different moldings one inside the other. Think of a shifting spanner as a 1 piece assembly so when something breaks or wears out you just dump it and print off another one. Col