Thursday, May 10, 2007

3-D "printer" makes actual plastic objects

Already in use by industry, medical and other professions, the 3-D printer may become common place in the home. Uses could even include letting little girls make their own customized Barbie dolls - with their mother's face on it! Are we there yet? Almost...

By Saul Hansell from the New York Times Technology section:
Beam It Down From the Web, Scotty
PASADENA, Calif. — Sometimes a particular piece of plastic is just what you need. You have lost the battery cover to your cellphone, perhaps. Or your daughter needs to have the golden princess doll she saw on television. Now.

In a few years, it will be possible to make these items yourself. You will be able to download three-dimensional plans online, then push Print. Hours later, a solid object will be ready to remove from your printer.

It’s not quite the transporter of “Star Trek,” but it is a step closer.

Three-dimensional printers have been seen in industrial design shops for about a decade. They are used to test part designs for cars, airplanes and other products before they are sent to manufacturing. Once well over $100,000 each, such machines can now be had for $15,000. In the next two years, prices are expected to fall further, putting the printers in reach of small offices and even corner copy stores.

The next frontier will be the home. One company that wants to be the first to deliver a 3-D printer for consumers is Desktop Factory, started by IdeaLab, a technology incubator here. The company will start selling its first printer for $4,995 this year.


IdeaLab hopes companies will sell three-dimensional designs over the Internet. This would allow people to print out replacements for a dishwasher rack at home. And it would open up new opportunities for toys.

“You could go to, download Barbie, scan your Mom’s head, slap the head on Barbie and print it out,” suggests Joe Shenberger, the director of sales for Desktop Factory. “You could have a true custom one-off toy.”

How many people will want such a thing? It is impossible to say for sure, but some who work with the current crop of 3-D printers say they will be very attractive when the price puts them in reach of home users. [...]

Eventually, the price for these "printers" is expected to fall as low as $1,000. The article talks about many other uses for the machines as well, and also offers more information about how the machines work, has photos of sample objects that the machines have made, and links to more information. It makes for fascinating reading.

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