I can't speak to the other projects' motivations, but I know that the fact that patents were expiring made little to no difference on our decision to make a printer. If you can believe it, the Fab@Home was almost an afterthought. We had top-of-the-line commercial 3D printers in the lab, but they didn't do the kind of custom material jobs required for the project that Evan Malone was doing. His PhD project was to create a 100% printed-from-scratch robot, and no technology fit the bill. So, he and Hod built one in order to get that project done. Like the Oculus, technology had advanced to the point that doing this was actually feasible on a shoestring budget. It ended up being a project of its own, but it wasn't like they saw the patents expiring and all of a sudden decided it'd be great to open-source a 3d printer design.
With how popular 3D printers are getting nowadays, it's possible some companies are looking to take advantage of the expiration of SLS patents, but I wouldn't hold your breath for an open-source project. If someone was making one, you'd know about it already.
On the other hand, I agree that only relatively recently has this become feasible to do on a shoestring budget. So there are a number of factors involved.
Both should be completely legal, shouldn't they?
I recall a story about a guy who blogged about coding up a shazaam clone and then receiving a C&D from the patent owner. It was never settled whether he had any grounds to do so, but sending C&Ds is cheap and mostly consequence-free.
But distributing detailed plans (or source code, as mentioned in sibling comment) of something that enables others to easily recreate something covered by a patent just seems to be less clear-cut to me (IANAL).
Patents forbid you selling anything, even with no profit.
Lots of pieces need to be sold for making 3D printers accessible for all. The electronics controlling board, the hotends, the friction wheels.
Most of the general population can't fabricate those things, but they want to use 3d printing anyway, like most women(90%of reprap now is men) don't know(or care) what a fuel injector is but they want a car for going to work.
In the future it is about Inkjet cartridges, wax and ceramic binders.
There's something else that's holding back 3D printing: Demand.
For all of the hype about 3D printing around how empowering it is, how cheap it's getting, and how it's going to revolutionize the world, where's the evidence that people are going to rush out to buy these, even if prices fall off a cliff?
The question is perhaps not "what do we buy today that we could 3D print instead", but "what objects/things don't exist today that _could_ with widespread and affordable 3D printing" (and the associated new 3D modelling software/libraries/new-techniques which make the idea->object process more accessable).
The latter question is the correct one to answer with something as weird and new (new to consumer/pro-sumer) as 3D printing.
"Get this batman figure based on todays episode printed at home RIGHT NOW. Just ask your parent to go to acme-cartoon-figures.com/batman05"
* Custom grips/parts for walking sticks
* The back of my remote that's been lost since 2000
* Custom holders/stands for devices (modems,phones)
* Custom project boxes
...just for a start.
I think it'll be much more like photo booth shops: every walgreens/walmart/corner store can have one, as well as hobbyists in their garages.
3D printers that print 3D printer parts are pretty much the whole idea behind RepRap - arguably one of the very first consumer/hobbyist 3D printer projects…
The big problem I see with 3D printer products for the home is that they're very slow. Pushing aside the fact that they won't always be slow (because swinging too early for the market is no better than swinging too late; both result in strikes), this is problem that can be solved at a consumer level by retail, the same way we don't have offset printers and copy machines in our houses but all know where to find a Kinkos.
Bear in mind that most people will never design a 3D model; most people can't even draw, and 3D modeling is harder. But that doesn't matter, of course, because some people can't help but 3D model things and will publish those models to places like Thingiverse.
For instance, when people can print out custom handset chassis and form factors to go with easily swappable electronic internals. Custom input devices. The printable stuff will have to integrate with electronics (or print them anew) as to make it useful in order for it to outgrow the current market of prototyping enthusiasts.
I'd really like though to be able to print a paperback for reading and then tear it down in the machine when I'm done so the material can be fully reused. That's the ebook revolution for me.
Actually, I agree with you. When 3D gets fast to the point of instantaneous and cheap and with fully reusable material, we could have really interesting things. Imagine a 'physical' computer. I issue some command in bash, and a little physical representation of a file pops out from my workstation, and it has built in sensors and input so I can interact back with my workstation by interacting with it. I could have actual printed pseudo-ebook-readers tied up as tabs in my web browser.
There are many things that are impractical to print as a result of how slow 3D printers currently are. But if they were faster, then you can make things as you need it, you can make things where you don't know what you need to pack beforehand, and you can make disposable things on demand.
Same with computers. Many of the software we use regularly now were considered impractical with much slower computers with smaller storage (spam filters, any 3D graphics game). By making them faster, a larger class of things were available to be made more useful.
In the far far future (say 30-40 years), if 3D printers were fast enough with good enough materials, some startup can make a physical dropbox. Never use storage again. Digitize what you want to store, and recycle the object. When you need it again, print it out.
You can do that right now. Buy recycled paper, print a book, read it, and put it into the recycle bin. Just think of paper in the same way you think of ink.
I wouldn't expect consumer adoption soon if I don't yet see, say, small household electronics repair shops using a 3d printer to make spare plastic parts on the spot instead of keeping inventory or long waits for deliveries; or tacky accessory/imitation jewelry stores printing rings/whatever out of metallic substrates with custom sizes and coloring right after order, or stores that sell handheld items (any, from computer mice to firearms) offering to print custom grips to match your hand exactly.
If I'd want to do business with 3d printing, then I'd start with such B2B usecases; or wait for the "right time to swing" at consumer market after this professional market is already full.
By the way, "designing a 3d model" is out of pretty much any of these usecases, the model is either premade by others or generated by specific software from some scans/measurements; and there could be a lot of money in making this software or models for the many businesses that want to sell stuff, not design it. On the other hand, building stuff "on order" is speed sensitive as if you can do it with a waiting time comparable to, say, Starbucks, then you open up much more business models than if customers need to wait an hour for the printing.
My fridge is full of containers, all of which could be differently shaped and sized to better suit me. It is awkward sending people things in the mail that aren't boxy due to standardised mailing containers - again being able to print the perfect one would be great. My garden could do with some innovative shapes such as a structure I can put half above ground, half below and put various plants in various orifices, have water flow and be stored in useful ways that reduce maintenance etc. Child safety seats could match the children exactly as they grow. Edible printing could throw open all sorts of creativity. Furniture could be made to fit spaces exactly. Printed items don't have to be rigid, which opens up possibilities in clothing - non-functional trinkets at first, but later on perfectly form fitting clothing for the occasion.
The real question is what will never be technically possible, with a mild mixture of what will never be economically feasible.
Was the thing that held back personal printers the lack of things to print- at one point, likely. Did a massive influx of 3rd party things to print solve this problem? No. 2D printers were popularized because people had shit they needed to print- text documents to start with and later photos. They made these things themselves. Thingiverse was not the solution for 2d and won't be the solution for 3d.
The only reason Thingiverse gets mentioned is that its damn near impossible for anyone who isn't a specialist in the field to design anything printable. The software is too complex and physical items must be durable.
This say we solved the software problem. We still have the enormous problem that the vast majority of people are incapable of making cogent 3D designs. IE, customization isn't buying you anything other than the ability to emboss your name or make a slightly different iphone case. Really, name one item that the average Joe can customize that isn't kitsch. Here's my list: glasses and jewelery (and only the later with quite a bit of hand holding). You may name a few more, but they problem have integrated circuits or other components that are not printable (lenses, diamonds, etc).
Maybe 3D printers will one day be valuable for printing out replacement parts; perhaps this is true. You'll take your broken whatsit to get 3D scanned and replaced. But of course, this business model may never come into existence due to copyright/patent laws. Even here, you will most likely get this done at your local kinkos because they will do it better, faster, and cheaper.
I don't foresee personal 3d printers becoming a thing, if ever. Perhaps in 20 years I'll look back on this statement in the same way that I think about "why would anyone ever want a personal computer". We'll see.
Traditional manufacturing processes produce higher quality parts and are more cost effective for most things you'd use a general purpose 3d printer for.
The mistake that many people make (not necessarily you), is when they ask for examples of appealing or useful 3D printing, and if your example doesn't appeal to them, then they write off the entire long tail of things to 3D print.
It's much like you asking your friends what movies they like on Netflix, and the friends answer "Home Alone" and "Elf". Since you don't like those movies, you can't imagine there being any other movie on Netflix you'd like, and write off all movies.
3D printing for the masses is so new that no one's seen much of the long tail, and there are things to be printed that are not yet explored.
That doesn't really make sense. It's more like the early days of Netflix streaming where people were reluctant to sign up because the selection of movies on there was actually terrible. I didn't touch it for a couple of years despite having access through a Netflix membership, because I couldn't find anything on there I wanted to watch.
The fact is that right now most examples of 3d printing are not that great. People at Maker Faire print out giant dodecahedral hats - admittedly to showcare the alrge print area rather than their taste in headware - or the occasional hard-to-find part. But most of the lower-end printers still produce output that looks highly pixelated, and the properties of the plastic used mean that many items have to be printed with additional structural support. What people see at the moment is like an inkjet printer (good) that can only produce output in Comic Sans (bad) and at low resolution (worse).
The exciting thing about patent expiration is getting around some of the resolution problems. People expect plastic to be smooth, not to look like miniature lego. Ideally you want to be able to print stuff of similar quality to a model aircraft kit. Right now it's OK for large, somewhat clunky items.
Per your example, It may very well be that nothing in the long tail of things to make with a 3D printer will appeal to you right now, and not for a long time. You may very well be a late adopter. But that doesn't mean that the entire space is useless, and of all the possibilities of things to 3D print, none of them will be useful or appealing to you personally. However, it will SEEM that way to you, since, by nature of a long tail, only a sliver of it appeals to you. Until that sliver gets discovered, by yourself or someone with more imagination, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that nothing will be appealing, given the samples you've seen so far.
If the long tail is only a sliver, then people won't buy the actual printer, they'll purchase what they require from a 3d printing supplier that can deliver decent quality. there's no long tail for dot-matrix (impact) printers, for example; people who needed one got one, but most people rightly sat it out until better products were available.
Other than that, I could see myself using it for "throwaway plastic stuff" - coasters, maybe (novelty) cups/glasses (for parties) -- and for replacement parts, as others have mentioned (for those plastic things that always breaks and can't be replaced except by replacing the entire thing it came with).
I could also see the community coming up with some standards -- like lenovo/thinkpad has standards for peripherals and covers -- so could boxes for 2.5/3.5 slide in closures for harddrives etc. So you could print (or build) a mini-itx case with as many 2.5" front-loading slots as you needed for your own dyi nas etc.
 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/527051507/hexbright-an-o... (around 1 minute into the video)
Couple it with the strides made in 3d character (facial) modelling -- and you could print out parts, paint with hobby/miniature paint and have your very own action series...
Medical field will have large number of applications.
There's some (not terribly regularly updated) objects printed at my local hackerspace here: http://hackerspace.pbworks.com/w/page/45077090/Up!%203D%20Pr...
I can't say what it will be useful for, but it opens up a lot of new design shapes. It'd be pretty shocking if that didn't result in anything useful.
It's just that 3d printers aren't going to revolutionize manufacturing or whatever it is that armchair pundits say about them. They have a place, but it's not sitting next to your microwave in your kitchen where you can download wrenches off the internet and print them into existence(and have them be at all useful). They are useful for hobbyist projects, for rapid prototyping, and for highly specialized work where traditional manufacturing isn't feasible(e.g. biomechanics).
One in obvious production would be dental fixtures and fillings--there are already CNC devices available.
Another would be sex toys, or for auto shops.
It would be interesting to see a Hacker News Poll on how much people have and use 2D printers now even, let alone 3D.
It would be great to have access to a good 3D printer at a low price that was convenient at, say a Kinkos or something.
3D printers could well be more like good quality photo printers - something that is better used by lots of people at a shared facility.
Poll: Do you have a 3d printer?
Yes, I already have one.
I don't have one now but I may buy one.
I'll probably never buy one.
It's hard to say whether that augers well for 3D printers or not. In what must be a big early adoption community only 8% of people have one but that 'maybe' group of 60% is huge.
Who knows, perhaps it will be like having a good workbench and tools. Not very rare, but far from ubiquitous.
There's a lot of people who love printing photos, flyers, etc. at the click of the mouse. We shouldn't demean that - there's a lot of real uses for 2D printing.
The own/rent/outsource question is a big part of the future of digital fabrication. See my article in MAKE:
But Shapeways, like online photo printing services might take a lot of the market when you know exactly what you want or want multiple copies or something.
I'm skeptical that 3D printer ownership or ubiquity is the impediment to their widespread use.
Who still thinks that patents foster innovation?
TLDR: Steam did take off after Watt's patents expired, but there is no causality because his patents claimed the condenser, which works in the exact opposite manner as the "expansive" use of high pressure steam. High-pressure steam languished initially because it was extremely risky. Ironically, Watt's patents probably encouraged work on high pressure steam because his rivals wanted to work around them.
However, it is a really well-written paper that provides fascinating insight into the technological atmosphere of that era, and I highly recommend reading it.
BTW, here's another paper from the same authors calling out Boldrin & Levine for further fabricating history when the above paper was bought to their attention: http://terry.uga.edu/~jlturner/WattAgainAug2009.pdf
Stratasys -506+ patents. no expirations.
Z Corp--150+ patents. I think 3d systems bought them out....
3D Systems- 930+ patents. I counted a few expirations as well.
VoxelJet- 100+ patents.
Links to relevant cases:
3D systems patent here: http://bit.ly/15avC8e
3D systems vs formlabs and kickstarter seems to be the most popular litigation case.
I'd be curious to know the royalties as well. The patents/companies have prevented individuals from building/sharing files. It's not clear about industry though.
(I'm glad, 20 years later, VR finally is poised to take the world by storm thanks to Oculus. And 3D printing definitely will change the world in ways we aren't even predicting once a bunch of other factors meet in a similar way.)
He shrugged and simply said "I made them."
He then showed me that he had a full basement and it was a fully equipped machine shop. The guy made things like fully functional steam tractors from scratch that you could ride on.
Anyhow, 3D printing makes it possible for much more ordinary folk to easily make things that were formerly cost prohibitive.
There was a hobbyist sugar sintering printer which used a heated element to fuse sugar. Not as sturdy as metal but you can eat it :-).
Given the explosion of cheap Chinese made laser cutters on Ebay I'm sure they will be all over this new market. Most of the parts already exist in the form of a laser cutter anyway.
SLS/DMLS, however, can give quite a bit of control over the grain structure. The solidification rate of the melt-pool is generally very rapid, giving small and homogeneous grain structure, but there can be all sorts of problems with residual stresses in the part.
I'm a bit of a 'metal-fanatic' - I think lots of everyday objects should really be made from some suitable metal, simply because that would make them last much longer. And sometimes thicker metal, too: I can't keep track of the number of times I've seen a metal thing break just because it was a bit too thin. A 0.5mm increase in thickness can make a substantial difference when we're talking about metal.
There's an aesthetic barrier, of course, since lots of people prefer more 'natural' materials, but I bet reliability-focused people won't mind.
(Of course, if the general user ever gets their hands on this, there would have to be very clear guidelines on things that definitely shouldn't be made from metal - e.g. obvious stuff like items you intend to shove into a microwave. There's the problem of unintentionally dangerous things (not just intentionally dangerous things like guns) coming out of 3D printers, especially metal-based ones.)
(Also, a huge question is what kind of metal, since there's obviously massive variation there.)
When the patents of laser sintering will expire the laser scanner still has to be very accurate. And accurate laser scanners are expensive even without patent.
It might be different for stereolythografy. With a good beamer high resolutions are possible.
But then there are materials. The resin used for stereolythografy is expensive because of patents. The powder used for laser sintering is expensive because of patents.
I fear nothing will change because a) there will never be relevant b) _standardised_ results and file formats (use with any consumer printer) c) DRMed results not any cheaper than the "real" thing. Or anu combination of those.
At least one firm has already decided it's cheaper to give away schematics for certain parts than to manufacture and ship them: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4568043
Well, for me a file that only contains coherent triangles is the closest thing to a standard that could be in 3D.
Reduced costs of parts and sub-assemblies combined with an abundance of open-sourced knowledge have provided the tipping point to the recent explosion in 3D printing.
Patent worries only stifle innovation in larger established companies with more to lose than to gain.
3. jewelry molds, then jewelry.
4. medical devices(print out a catheter in the middle of the night.)
5. Eventually, electronics.
6. Once metal printers become better, and lower priced
the race will be on. We will read about the first mechanical watch printed on this site--then it will
be the first radio?
7. Physibles will be a go to site?
Doctors prescribe catheters, but, as I understand it, you typically get them, once prescribed, from a medical supply house. Print-at-home could be useful in certain situations.
And, of course, people don't need to go to a doctor for anything connected to jewelry.
> A printer good enough to print glass lenses would be useful for some areas of the developing world.
People in the developed world still wear glasses, too, and being able to replace damaged lenses at home would be convenient.
Will printers ever be good enough to print contact lenses?
A printer good enough to print glass lenses would be useful for some areas of the developing world.
Even the $500K printers we have at work, can't compete with the quality of mass produced injection molded parts. And some of the ideas people are talking about like home printing medical devices, radios, and other electronics have been watching too much Star Trek.
Over the past 10 years, the printers have gotten better, but they are not following anything close to Moores Law in terms of speed, quality, and cost improvements. In 2 years, we are not going to have Star Trek replicators. In 40-100, maybe. Until that time comes, home 3D printers will only be making cheap plastic junk like figurines.