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The 3D printing revolution: Is it ready to go mainstream?

You probably have heard of 3D printing already, or seen videos or read articles on its amazing capabilities. From toys to moldings to replacement parts —there seems to be no limitation other than what the human mind could possibly conceive. Of course, the statement is not entirely true, at least for now.
The Form 1 uses stereolithography technology to achieve resolution unheard of in the low-cost 3D printer market. The printer forms cross sections with ultra precise laser movements and creates layers as thin as 25 microns (.001 inches) in a build volume of 4.9 x 4.9 x 6.5 inches.
Considering how rapidly the 3D printing technology is moving, we may be facing the future of manufacturing: from ground up and highly decentralized. An exciting possibility is not to just rely on what the market is offering, but rather have that capability to quickly produce something according to an individual’s actual needs and preference, whether in one’s local shop or even at home. Imagine having a 3D printer at home. Instead of buying your goods from stores, you may create or be able to download designs and print them out at your own garage or backyard. Mitch Free wrote in his Forbes article: “Just fifteen years ago, to manufacture an object for general sale required a facility for mass production, a significant investment in inventory or materials, and a brick-and-mortar retailer to market that product to customers.  We are now in the midst of a new industrial revolution: the average consumer will soon be empowered to create new or established products in near real-time.” Basically, 3D printing involves the building up, layer upon layer of thin material (usually plastic), to assemble intricate three-dimensional objects. “Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. It is distinct from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling (subtractive processes),” as gathered by Wikipedia. The technology is used for both prototyping and distributed manufacturing in jewelry, footwear, industrial design, architecture, engineering and construction, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education, geographic information systems, civil engineering, and many other fields, according to the collaborative site. The list of 3D printing applications goes on, and will continue to expand into wider usage. Early this month, a working gun made with 3D printer made headlines, attracting the attention of law enforcement agencies everywhere. Although risks such as these occur as with other technologies, it can’t be denied that as the technology becomes cheaper and more user friendly, more products and choices will be available to consumers. The main drawback is the cost, as most 3D printers are expensive and would only achieve economies of scale in industrial use. Yet, there are startups out there which are seemingly successful at overcoming this constraint – disrupting 3D printing. Formlabs yesterday announced the shipment of the Form 1: the first truly high resolution, low-cost 3D printer for design and engineering professionals. The company launched the Form 1 on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter in September 2012, gaining pledges for more than 1,000 printers within one month. The company used those funds to set up production in the United States. “Such high quality 3D printing used to be too expensive and complex for most individuals. Now Form 1 users can print parts on their desktops with the complex geometries, exquisite details, and beautiful surface finish necessary for professional quality design and digital fabrication,” the firm stated in its website. The Form 1 printer is engineered to produce high resolution parts with the touch of a button, according to Formlabs. “Form software is intuitive and simple to use so you can spend less time setting up prints and more time designing. The Form Finish post-processing kit keeps your desktop organized so that you can easily put the finishing touches on your masterpiece,” it added. The Form 1 is available for preorder for $3,299 in the USA, Canada, Australia, and Europe while Kickstarter units are fulfilled. The package includes the Form 1 printer, one liter of resin, PreForm Software, and the Form Finish Kit. Clear Resin, the Form 1’s flagship print material, will be available for $149 per liter on the Form Store (formlabs.com). Clear shows excellent tensile, impact, and green strength, making it great for highly detailed models, complex geometries, and functional prototypes. PreForm Software is available as a free download at formlabs.com. PreForm is a blazing fast desktop software package that makes turning digital models into physical form as simple as a few mouse clicks. With companies like Formlabs, the answer to the question whether 3D printers will be a popular home device or remain a technique seems to support the 3D printing revolution. Pete Basiliere of research outfit Gartner, said: “3D printing is a technology accelerating to mainstream adoption. The hype leads many people to think the technology is some years away, when it is available now and is affordable to most organizations.” MST Tech
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