A $1,500 hand-operated, bench-model plastic injection machine funded via Kickstarter can be used to mold small, quality, plastic parts inexpensively, on demand. Shown here is the prototype with the basic manual (screw tightening) mold vise that comes standard with the machine, for prototyping or lower-volume production. (Source: LNS Technologies)
A local Medical products company uses a slightly larger version (with an air cylinder to provide the "PUSH" for injecting the molten plastic). With quality molds and medical grade plastic, they made very high quality parts.
On the slide show, slide 7 (I think) is a golf tee not a screw. Not a big deal, but putting the matching threads on a 2 piece mold is not a trivial task.
From what I have learned about injection molding, the design and production of the die are expensive along woth the die materials. A plaster die is an interesting concept, indeed. But it would not survive even one shot in any of the systems that I am aware of. So this must be a quite different kind of injection molding. Good, I need to learn new things every day.
The die is less expensive than you might think, Vincent R. Gingery covers plaster molds in his very informative book "Build a Plastic Injection Molding Machine" ISBN 1-878087-19-3. For the home hobbyist, if you can make a plaser negitive of a part you want, you shouldn't have any trouble making limited number of plastic positives without breaking the bank.
This is interestingand encouraging. BUt no matter what there still needs to be a die created and then put in a machine and used. And there is still a lot of effort needed in creating and implementing that die. Yes, lower pressure dies can be made and used but a die is still the expensive part.
Ah, yes, the Mattel Vac-u-Form! I didn't have one of those, but a friend across the street did, and I thought it was very hot (literally). I had a Mattel Power Shop, which had a combination wood lathe, disc sander, jig saw and drill press, all-in-one. You couldn't cut hardwood with it, but it was great for balsa wood projects. I guess a lot of us got our start in making things as kids with toys that would be banned as too dangerous today, but the concept of making the tools cheaper so you can use them at home lives on!
The idea with a small machine like this is that you can also afford to buy some of the other components of the process. FOr the cost of having a mold made you could pay for a small "bench to" cnc machine and move the process into your own shop rather than having to depend on others to produce things for you. Benchtop CNC machines start out around $5000 US and that would cover the cost of having an outside vendor make just your first part.
You need to take a look at programs like Mach3 (http://machsupport.com/) which allow an older PC to make a very good CNC control for a machine of your own design, or a retrofit to an existing machine.
These 2 machines in combination woud allow one to try out ideas wtih a very quick turn around time as compared to having an outside vendor do the work for you. There are some skills that would need to be learned, but we tend t o be the "geeks and freaks" types so none of these skills would be much of a challenge for our abilities. Imagine - less than 24 hour turn around time on an idea. Need a change, you pop a pice of aluminum in the machine and an hour later you have a new mold.
In all seriousness, what does Obama have to do with it? The erosion of the education value of toys started long before he got into office. Why not blame Mao or Angela Merkel? it's almost as relevant. I do agree with your sentiment on the dumbing down of toys, and surface mount components and boxed PC's have also put an end to what was for many a stepping stone into computers. Again not by presidental decree, but in these cases market forces.
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Plastic bearings are real and millions of them are in use doing heavy-duty jobs we used to think only metals could do. Some of Germany-based igus's bearings are traveling around the world as functional parts in a car to demonstrate what they can do.
Baxter showed off his 2.0-derived moves at ATX West this year. The big red guy still looks pretty much the same, but has some new abilities, mostly due to software. The research robot version is now being used in corporate R&D departments as a design platform.
End-production using 3D printing, including objects made of multiple materials in one pass, is getting closer to reality as we saw on the exhibit floor at the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.