3D printing has the potential to truly change the world and the way we view things. Lately, it has been booming! Particularly in early 2012, 3D printers have been targeted at consumers and hobbyists so that almost anyone who wants to use 3D printing can. Even if someone can't afford to purchase or rent a printer, 3D printing services such as Kraftwurx, Shapeways, or Sculpteo will create your models and turn them into real physical models. 3D printing isn't unavailable anymore. It isn't a technology that's exclusive to work laboratories and universities anymore; it's commercial. It's available to whoever wants to seek it!
So what happens when consumers and hobbyists gain access to this technology? We're starting a trend that could put China out of business! Well, maybe not... but we won't be importing nearly as much. When creation is available to almost anyone who wants it, we lose dependence to other countries that we currently outsource to. In addition to that, this industry would open up more jobs for manufacturing in the United States. Aside from that aspect, 3D printing is friggin' cool! This form of manufacturing has the power to manufacture virtually any shape. Products that revolve around machining or mold manufacturing can't compete with the levels of variety that 3D printing offers. New stuff can be created with ease through this form of manufacturing. Products that involve organic shapes, pieces can be placed 'within' products (a ball within a ball), and curves can be made with ease. The possibilities of products to be manufactured are endless.
Currently on the hobbyist level, small doodads are being created. These doodads are very witty, useful, and can serve as a prototype for larger scale creations. Examples include a variety of ipod cases, key-chains, bottle openers, character models, jewelry, puzzles, games, etc. If a community of 'makers' can create a bunch of crafty and witty doodads, what could happen when big corporations get involved?
Engineering companies are using 3D printing to prototype large scale projects across the globe. These projects include advanced valve systems, automobile applications, testing for tools, and many other applications. Some companies are using 3D printing for marketing purposes. When a model is created, it can be handed to a client to visually see what will come from a project. This is great on large-scale projects. Some of these projects could involve product development or architectural applications. In fact, 3D printing is involved (or can be involved) with most industries out there today. If anything involves marketing an idea, or creating a product, this manufacturing technology can play a role in it!
Crazy applications are also taking place that I am so excited to see develop. Some of these projects include renewable solar panels, organ replication, precise implants, and other interesting apparatuses. This technology simply doesn't have a ceiling! Within the next few years, who knows where this advanced form of manufacturing is going to go. The potential is limitless, and it could go anywhere! Only time will tell.