In the last year, 3D printing has moved from the realm of science fiction into the lexicon of the possible. It may not yet be mainstream, but with prices dropping and real-world applications climbing, the expectation is that these devices will soon become as common in homes as toasters.
Indeed, MakerBot is on record saying that it wants to put a 3D printer in every school in the United States. Surgeons are making use of 3D printers. And airplane makers are now using 3D printing to produce certain parts. The pace of activity is such that the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has decided that 3D printing warrants its own exhibit area at the show for the first time, a harbinger that this is a technology on the march.
Before then, however, industry participants gathered this week in Paris to share their latest advances at the 3D Print Show exhibition. Here's a sample of what went on.
How does the idea of printing a car grab you? It's not a theoretical question. This is a story that began a couple of years ago, and in Paris, engineers showed off their latest prototype of the "Urbee" two-passenger vehicle whose exterior components got created on a 3D printer. (In case you were curious, "Urbee" stands for "Urban electric with ethanol as backup.")
Next on the list? Perhaps high couture. In Paris, some fashion designers demonstrated what was possible with this nascent technology in preparation for the fashion catwalk. In this image, a creation by Steven Ascensao printed in 3D by MCR is modeled.
The sharp uptick in interest has led market analysts to ratchet up their expectations accordingly. A recent report projects an $8.41 billion market by 2020. A measure of caution is obviously appropriate here, as we'll only know whether that projection was irrationally exuberant or on the money once 2020 rolls around.