What I found more compelling was the concept of self-assembly and self-reconfiguration, rather than the lego-like MIT digital materials in the link I gave before: http://cba.mit.edu/docs/papers/06.09.digital_materials.pdf Was this the MIT digital materials you referred to? If not, can you tell us what you were referring to?
NadineJ -- I think the "more compelling" concept is a matter of timeline. The MIT papers do like digital assembly similar to Lego blocks. An article in Wired in recent months discussed a method being used to construct skyscrapers in China in two weeks using a modular approach.
We have seen the open software approach be applied to hardware in the Arduino and BeagleBone and the modular shields we stack upon them. Xerox PARC has done work on 3D printing of circuit boards. These concepts are making traction in the marketplace already.
Ann's earlier article http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=261138 seems to be more futuristic where objects act like (maybe become?) living organisms and adapt their shape and purpose to the environmental need at hand. Science fiction such as the Transformers movies always inspires invention of the future.
Nadine, I googled "MIT digital materials" and came up with several links that seem to be talking about LEGO-like "printing", although it looks more like assembly to me. At the micron level described in a 2009 paper http://cba.mit.edu/docs/papers/06.09.digital_materials.pdf one might be able to call this "digital assembly," but at larger scales that terms seems misleading. Is this what you were referring to?
In any case, it seems to be related to self-assembled and self-reconfigurable devices and materials, on several scales, which DN covered here: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=261138 and which I find much more compelling.
It's important to remember that the technology for SLS with metals and with plastic is not the same, so it's not a matter of a 3D printer company using one line of printers for either materials set. It's also a really different expertise set. So far, plastic-based companies like Stratasys are partnering with metals-based companies like Optomec, and 3D Systems has bought the expertise.
A new compression molding compound material combines the light weight, strength, and rigidity of carbon fibers with the flexibility and lower cost of glass materials in a composite compatible with automotive production.
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.