One software designers attempt to grow up.

By Alexander Somma
Sent to you by outofpaper via Google Reader: Will 3D Printing End Mass
Manufacturing? [PICS] via Mashable! by Todd Wasserman on 4/10/11

Dictionary.com has 17 definitions of the verb “to print,” but none of
them conjure up images like the metal cross you see on your right, or
other objects such as glass figurines, iPad covers or even shoes — all
of which can now be printed with the help of special machines.

The process of “3D printing” only loosely corresponds to our common
image of printing. It may, however, revolutionize the way we define and
interact with manufacturing.

Chief among the proponents of this view is The Economist, speculating
in a February cover story that the technology “has the potential to
transform manufacturing because it lowers the costs and risks,” thus
opening it to smaller players. It’s not hard to see this line of logic.
Just picture a local craftsman able to make his own customized bicycle
using parts created from his printer.

“3D printing will for sure be a new mode of manufacturing,” says Peter
Weijmarshausen, the CEO of Shapeways, which creates 3D objects for
consumers. “People are no longer only happy with mass-produced products
that all look the same. That is just what mass production has given
them. With 3D printing you can produce en masse custom and personalized
products at perhaps almost the same prices.”
The Cost

At the moment, 3D printing is more of a curiosity than a threat to the
status quo. One roadblock holding up the revolution is cost. For
example, Z Corp’s 3D printers range from $14,900 to $59,900 in the U.S.
It may be steep but the costs balance out, says Scott Harmon, Z Corp’s
vice president of business development. “More important than the
purchase price is the operating cost,” Harmon said. The total expense
for finished models is $2 to $3 per cubic inch.

The prices are likely to come down over time, and new materials are
being used for 3D printing. Shapeways, for instance, added stainless
steel in 2009, glass in 2010 and last month, silver to its printers.
Moreover, larger manufacturers are coming on board, including Clark’s,
the British shoe brand, which this month began using Z Corp’s 3D
printers for prototyping.

Harmon says his customers come from a variety of industries, including
mechanical design, education, architecture, retail and entertainment.
While architects and mechanical designers usually use 3D printing to
make prototypes, many of the firms, including Shapeways,Jujups and
i.materialise.com, basically act like a Kinko’s for 3D objects —
consumers send in their designs and the companies print/manufacture
them. For instance, FigurePrints, a Seattle company, makes 3D replicas
of Xbox Live avatars and World of Warcraft characters.

Sculpteo, a French firm, offers more options. The company can make a 3D
figurine of you or someone else from a picture and also creates custom
objects using 3D designs in software programs like sketchup and 3ds.
Clement Moreau, CEO and co-founder of Sculpteo, says the price for such
objects ranges from $20 to $2,000, depending on the size. “We have two
kinds of customers — consumers and professionals, mostly mass-market
artists,” he says. Moreau started the company in 2009 in order to make
3D printing available to a wider audience.
Looking to the Future

3D printing will eventually infiltrate the market, even though Z Corp’s
Harmon doesn’t see that happening for a while. Harmon says the
evolution is already underway: “What 3D printing will do in the short
term is give business owners and consumers new kinds of products that
can’t be made using traditional techniques,” he says. “As 3D printing
generates scale with these new products, it will become increasingly
price- and quality-competitive with traditional manufacturing
techniques for a broader array of products.”

Click through the photo gallery below for a look at some of the 3D
printers and the objects they’re able to create. What do you think? Let
us know in the comments.

Z Printer 650

Z Printer 650 from Z Corp., the company's top printer. It retails for

Z Printer 650

Another view of Z Corp.'s Z Printer 650.

The 3D Printing Process

This excerpt from a Z Corp. white paper on 3D printing explains how the
models go from CAD to 3D objects.

System Overview

This Z Corp. document offers a deeper dive into the guts of the printer.

The Printing Cycle

Z Corp's 3D printers work with powder, which eventually solidifies.

The Build Chamber

This illustration shows how the objects are "printed," layer by layer,
using powder.


Z Corp. currently offers three types of materials for 3D printing
ranging from salt and water to two-part, high-strength resin.

Bit Cross

This item was made by Shapeways. It was created by Michiel Cornelissen.

Color It Wiggle the Dog

A dog, created by Shapeways.

iPad Cover

An iPad cover created by 40 West.

Over the Top Puzzle

A puzzle created by artis: Oskar van Deventer.

iPod Tray

An iPod tray created by 40 West.


A timekeeper created by Aeron203.

More About: 3d printer, 3D printers, 3d printing, Gadget, printer,
tech, trending, z corp

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