3D Printing

December 7, 2012 • Volume 22, Issue 43
Will it revolutionize manufacturing?
By Peter Katel


3D printers (Reuters/Handout)
3D printers, once largely limited to making prototypes for industry, now are used to turn out a growing number of products, including replacement parts for medicine and dentistry. Bre Pettis, CEO of Makerbot Industries, in Brooklyn, N.Y., manufactures small, inexpensive printers increasingly used in homes, offices and small-scale manufacturing firms. (Reuters/Handout)

Used for years to make instant industrial prototypes, medical devices and other finished parts, 3D printers now are available in desktop models or inexpensive build-it-yourself kits — allowing anyone to create an object from a digital blueprint. Some Web-based companies provide 3D printing of customer-designed products, and Staples is even planning to install 3D printers in some stores in Europe. The surging activity surrounding 3D printing reminds many observers of the exciting early days of personal computing. Indeed, some experts see a decentralized manufacturing revolution in the making. Others caution that such cottage industry networks are a long way from replacing industrial-size factories. And with small-scale producers capable of making exact duplicates of objects, experts predict legal collisions with corporate patent-holders. Some experts also fear proliferation of 3D-printed weapons. But the steady expansion of 3D printing appears unstoppable.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Nov. 08, 1996  Clashing Over Copyright
May 18, 1990  Is the U.S. Patent System Out of Date?
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