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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 Mattel.com, 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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Manufacturing
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 http://www.solidconcepts.com/
They provide rapid prototyping services with these different technologies.


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