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Images courtesy The New York Times
Desktop Factory to introduce 3D printer for $4,995 USD

3D printers have been around for industrial use roughly a decade, but they have been matched with outrageous price tags. The first models to hit the market were priced at about the same as a fully loaded Mercedes S-Class, while models today can be bought for about the price of a Honda Civic. The price erosion is expected to continue in the next few years with prices dropping below $5,000 USD by the end of 2007.

3D printers are already in use by doctors, dentists, architects and even the U.S. military. The high price tags of existing 3D printers may have not been a turn-off for the aforementioned group, but was completely out of reach for consumers.

Desktop Factory -- a company founded by IdeaLab --  is aiming to bring to market a consumer-oriented 3D printer this year for $4,995 USD while the cost of materials is expected to be $0.50 per cubic inch. "We are Easy-Bake Ovening a 3-D model," said IdeaLab chairman Bill Gross.

The Desktop Factory 3D will build models layer by layer from bottom to top. The models are constructed using nylon which is mixed with aluminum and glass and then hardened by heat. The Desktop Factory 3D printer will measure 25" x 20" x 20" and weighs less than 90 pounds. It can build 3D models up to 5" x 5" x 5" constructed of layers 0.010" thick.

"In the future, everyone will have a printer like this at home," Cornell University Professor Hod Lipson. "You can imagine printing a toothbrush, a fork, a shoe. Who knows where it will go from here?"

The possibilities are endless for the consumer according to Desktop Factory director of sales Joe Shenberger. "You could go to, download Barbie, scan your Mom’s head, slap the head on Barbie and print it out," said Shenberger. "You could have a true custom one-off toy."

"When laser printers cost more than $5,000, nobody knew they needed desktop publishing," added A. Michael Berman, CTO for Pasadena's Art Center College of Design. "The market for 3-D printing isn’t as big as for laser printers, but I do believe it is huge."

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Star Trek here we come...
By dice1111 on 5/8/07, Rating: 0
RE: Star Trek here we come...
By Christobevii3 on 5/8/2007 2:50:24 PM , Rating: 5
So i could print off my favorite porn star and have a sudo sex toy?

RE: Star Trek here we come...
By nayy on 5/8/2007 3:34:59 PM , Rating: 6
It's only 5"x5"x5"
Who is your favorite porn star? Tinker Bell?

RE: Star Trek here we come...
By Mitch101 on 5/8/2007 3:57:54 PM , Rating: 2
Dont leave out the Twin Asians from Mothra/Godzilla movies.

RE: Star Trek here we come...
By tomthehand on 5/11/2007 3:15:42 PM , Rating: 2
A 5" x 5" x 5" cube is like 8.7" from one corner to the corner exactly opposite.

RE: Star Trek here we come...
By Justin Case on 5/8/2007 7:34:04 PM , Rating: 2
What does sudo have to do with it?

I mean, maybe I'm just not geeky enough, but I really don't see it as a sex toy.

RE: Star Trek here we come...
By Fritzr on 5/8/2007 8:57:58 PM , Rating: 2
Mispelled word ... try pseudo ... in this case an inflatable GF :P

By Christobevii3 on 5/9/2007 1:19:35 AM , Rating: 2
I'd use sudo to chmod a+x vagina.

By jay401 on 5/8/2007 2:47:32 PM , Rating: 2
I'm ignorant of the concept... is this thing able to manipulate a piece of paper like origami and shape it into things in addition to coloring it in? Or do you stick an object inside it and it "paints" it for you?

*scratches head*

RE: help
By darkpaw on 5/8/2007 2:52:45 PM , Rating: 1
Think of it more like sculpting. You put in the raw material and provide a 3d model (autocad or whatever format it takes) and it carves it for your. At least thats how the one I've seen works. Its mostly for prototyping purposes atm.

RE: help
By jay401 on 5/8/2007 4:01:35 PM , Rating: 2
ohhh okay cool so it's sorta like those big CNC lathing machines they use to make aluminum wheels and such. Cool.
The term "printer" is sorta misleading.

RE: help
By glennpratt on 5/8/2007 7:07:08 PM , Rating: 4
The term "printer" is sorta misleading.

No, it isn't. This doesn't sculpt, it builds using a laser moving over the raw material - not unlike an ink jet print head, some even have ink jets for coloring - and building an object one thin layer at a time, from the bottom up. A layer is built, more material is spread over it, then a layer is built. When it's done you have an object buried in raw material.

Here's an example:

RE: help
By Justin Case on 5/8/2007 7:37:15 PM , Rating: 3
No, it's not. There's no sculpting involved. The material (ex., a plastic powder) is hardened one "slice" at a time, sort of like a 3D bitmap (made from a 3D model).

It's really a lot like a printer with "thick" ink.

This kind of device is also used for industrial "fast prototyping", but it's not the same as a CNC lathe.

RE: help
By Shoal07 on 5/8/2007 2:59:00 PM , Rating: 2
The Desktop Factory 3D will build models layer by layer from bottom to top. The models are constructed using nylon which is mixed with aluminum and glass and then hardened by heat.

Did you read the article?

By Moishe on 5/8/2007 2:24:42 PM , Rating: 2
Now all those old folks can print out their own lawn animals!

This will definitely reduce prototyping costs for small businesses. I want one... but I dunno what I'd print with it.

RE: sweet!
By GaryJohnson on 5/8/2007 3:13:43 PM , Rating: 2
I dunno what I'd print with it

Widgets and doodads of course.

RE: sweet!
By BladeVenom on 5/8/2007 6:12:03 PM , Rating: 2
Replacement parts is the first thing that comes to mind. How about custom grips for your mouse mouse and joystick. Models and toys would also be a popular use. Right now they are heavily used for making prototypes.

RE: sweet!
By JeffDM on 5/14/2007 9:02:43 PM , Rating: 2
It's still a slow process, as noted, and it is very rough. Making it finer makes it slower. I asked one company that sells them and they said something like five hours for a one cubic inch part. I think the biggest expense is the laser, and I haven't heard that the high power lasers are getting significantly cheaper yet.

Except for prototyping products for mass production, I just don't see $5k being worth it. The time it takes is a major expense, it might be free and it might be hard for a business to justify its operation, I think there is a lot of power consumed too. A small business probably wouldn't be able to justify it unless they are a rapid prototying business. A hobbyist might get one if they are good at designing objects, but making it pay is a tough thing unless you can charge a very high price for it. If you make a mistake though, expect another day's worth of operation making a new part. It won't make fine details either because they are still pretty rough, the model shops set aside a lot of time sanding and filling too, the hobbyist may just as well sand a block of plastic instead.

The printer may be cheaper...
By PrinceGaz on 5/8/2007 6:53:42 PM , Rating: 2
The printer may be cheaper, but I wonder how much the "plastic" catridges for these things will cost :)

I doubt a personal 3D plastic printer will be a viable way of creating anything other than one-off or very limited run items where it isn't worthwhile moulding it the conventional way. At least not for the next twenty years or so until the technology has advanced a helluva long way.

RE: The printer may be cheaper...
By Justin Case on 5/8/2007 7:40:31 PM , Rating: 2
The article states that "the cost of materials is expected to be $0.50 per cubic inch".

BTW, after you have a 3D plastic model it's relatively easy to make a mould, that can be used for large-scale duplication. These things aren't really meant for mass production (they're very slow). Most industrial moulds these days start their life as as prototype from a 3D printer.

By mckrautski on 5/8/2007 8:37:50 PM , Rating: 2
That $.50 material cost is a bit misleading though. At a .010" layer resolution, it'll take a heck of a lot of sanding to remove all the aliasing and make functional prototypes out of those things. So you gotta figure in the cost of having a technician doing all that hand labor on top of it.

To get aesthetic prototypes you'll then have to figure in the cost of color matching, painting and surface texture matching too.

Don't know what the power cost per print will be either.

The price for the device is excellent, but given the amount of work after printing that you need to do, it'll still make more sense for my company to send most prototype work out to companies that have high-end machines and an optimized system for the finishing operations. This strikes me as more of a tech demo or a toy than a practical machine for in-house rapid prototyping. Solid modeling programs are good enough now that the need for coarse prototypes like this machine produces is diminishing rapidly.

Now make a machine for this cost that spits out protoypes that are look good enough to show customers at a trade show and I'll jump for joy. This is a step in that direction, but it ain't there yet.

By TheTerl on 5/8/2007 2:58:22 PM , Rating: 2
Although the article refers to the printed parts as plastics, I'm very interested in the part about using aluminum or glass filler. Having some background in ceramics and metal processing, one technique we use is to mix metal or ceramic powders in some sort of plastic like this (extrusion and injection molding, for those curious). Then, we literally burn out the plastic so we're left with just the metal, but with very exact sizes. If these 3D printers could be used in the same way, they would suddenly become useful not only for rapid prototyping, but for inexpensive, large-scale manufacturing of precision parts.

RE: Manufacturing
By theaerokid on 5/8/2007 3:51:53 PM , Rating: 2
Look up Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) within the Rapid Prototyping industry. The laser sinters plastic and metal powders into the desired shapes. There are several related technologies that are out there rapid prototyping with metals. They're not down to the $5k level, but they're out there.

Check out
They provide rapid prototyping services with these different technologies.

By Creig on 5/9/2007 9:04:36 AM , Rating: 4

What is RepRap?
RepRap is short for Replicating Rapid-prototyper. It is a practical self-copying 3D printer.
The RepRap project became widely known after a large press coverage in March 2005, though the idea goes back to a paper on the web written by Adrian Bowyer on 2 February 2004.

RepRap will make plastic, ceramic, or metal parts, and is itself made from plastic parts, so it will be able to make copies of itself. It is a three-axis robot that moves several material extruders. These extruders produce fine filaments of their working material with a paste-like consistency. If RepRap were making a plastic cone, it would use its plastic extruder to lay down a quickly-hardening 0.5mm filament of molten plastic, drawing a filled-in disc. It would then raise the plastic extrusion head and draw the next layer (a smaller filled disc) on top of the first, repeating the process until it completed the cone. To make an inverted cone it would also lay down a support material under the overhanging parts. The support would be removed when the cone was complete. Conductors can be intermixed with the plastic to form electronic circuits - in 3D even!

The RepRap build cost will be less than $400 US for the bought-in materials, all of which have been selected to be as widely available everywhere in the world as possible. Also, the RepRap software will work on all computer platforms for free. Complete open-source instructions and plans are published on this website for zero cost and available to everyone so, if you want to make one yourself, you can.

We hope to announce self-replication in 2008.

By darkpaw on 5/8/2007 2:27:11 PM , Rating: 2
I got to play with a 3d printer like 10 years ago and thought it was the coolest thing at the time. This really puts them into the price range of small time shops or schools.

This is a big deal because
By zsouthboy on 5/8/2007 4:46:09 PM , Rating: 2
currently machines (granted they can do bigger than 5x5x5, but still) cost $80k. I know, i've played with one and watched it make some neat crap.

And forget hour long "print" times.

Think overnight "print" times.

By gdongarra on 5/8/2007 4:54:15 PM , Rating: 2
How many computer labs are there in the US alone?
How many High Schools teach Auto CAD?

The Highschool in my district bought a 3d printer 2 years ago and I remember the shop teacher bragging about how he got funding and that it was the only one in the county.

I think the education system is going to go ape over these....

Is Holo-Deck Technology next?
By 9nails on 5/15/2007 12:25:14 AM , Rating: 2
Great - first music was converted into a compressed MP3 file then distributed all over the Internet through file-sharing tools. The RIAA was caught with their pants down in a "not ready" pose for all that reaming.

Next - MPAA was converted into MPEG files and shared over broadband networks. The MPAA cried like a baby as it was their turn to assume the position.

Now, who is next? We have stolen property from the music industry and converted it into sharable formats. Then we took movies, converted those... Will toy makers such as Rubik's need to start worrying? Or will this technology grow to the point where you mix a few silicon and copper "toner" packs and an iPod's can be printed in our own selection of colors?

Laugh now, but our children will be saying: "Damn, I lost my cell phone again! Oh well, I'll just print out another one..."

Changes to how things are done
By Kevinmc1953 on 5/17/2007 12:51:40 PM , Rating: 2
9nails is closest to really grasping the impact of this. It is another extension of VCR's, laser printers and IPods.

Past methods of manufacturing and distribition will continue to evolve. We used to go to theaters for movies, print shops for hard copy printing, and music shops to acquire music. We now play and produce our own video, hardcopy and music. Those whose business was the physical manufacturing and distribution have seen their marketplace change. When this technology gets large, with more diverse materials, it will indeed become the manufacturing center for local, on-demand distributed creation of material products. If you have wondered how the Star Trek food system created food on demand, just understand that edible proteins will eventually be one of the components of a machine like this.

Don't constrain your thinking to parochial constraints of time and materials... the future of change will continue!

By Souka on 5/8/2007 2:42:37 PM , Rating: 1
"everyone" not even close... but perhaps some small businesses.

"print" time will be tediously slow... hour+ per print?

Also, my personal experience was a tad hard getting good data in the format the device/machine could use....

you can't just take a 3d pic.... you'll need to develop EASY and CHEAP software to do such things....

We are safe for now
By OrSin on 5/8/2007 2:43:48 PM , Rating: 1
The Printer cna only print 5" long so lat least our GF will not be make huge dildos when we are out. But I guess 5" by 5" would even more scary lol.

Forget the machine
By Mitch101 on 5/8/07, Rating: 0
“We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” -- Steve Jobs
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