I have always been fascinated by 3-D printing and as a practicing industrial designer, have been using it to visualize product concepts for years. I am certain that 3-D printing will change how we imagine, create and consume products in our daily lives in the years to come. With the push economy being replaced by the pull of individual needs and desires, 3-D printing will continue to be an important tool in our future. Imagine printing a life sized statue of your long passed grandfather in sandstone from nothing more than a few snapshots, or making your own furniture or toys fueled by only imagination. This is not the future, but the now and it is happening faster than most people realize. Today 3-D printing technology can be had for as little a $1200 and can be done in your own home. After being immersed in this technology and seeing its potential over the last 15 odd years or so, it is great to finally see it become embraced by everyday users. A recent article in Businessweek gives a very nice overview of the technology, its applications and history. But I think I like the opening paragraphs of the article best, as it describes how 14 year old Riley Lewis and his friends play with a Rapman 3-D printer:
On most weekends, 14-year-old Riley Lewis and a few of his eighth grade friends gather at his house in Santa Clara, Calif. The group of about five, depending on who’s around, grab some chips and bean dip and repair to the garage, where Riley and his dad have created something of a state-of-the-art manufacturing hub. The boys can pretty much fabricate anything they can dream up on a machine called the RapMan. As the hours tick by, they cover tables with their creations: rockets and guitar picks and cutlery. They hold forth on plastic extrusion rates and thermodynamics and how such forces affect the precision of the objects they can produce. “That’s a very beautiful gear you have printed,” a boy named Douglas tells Riley.
The kids obsess over what versions of the Linux operating system they run on their laptops and engage in awkward banter. “I will stab you with flash drives,” Riley tells Vernon, a skinny boy with a braided rattail who shows off a pair of freshly made plastic brass knuckles. Vernon says, “I want to print an essay for one of my teachers and hand it in on sheets of plastic instead of paper just to confuse people.”
You can read the whole article at Businessweek.