There's been lots of talk lately about how the price of 3D printers is going down, how the choice of materials for 3D printing is expanding, and how improved accessibility of the technology is widening its use in a host of new industries, from medical applications to becoming an instrumental part of the engineering workflow around early prototyping.
Yet even with the flood of new, inexpensive, and more consumer-oriented 3D printers for hobbyists, and office-ready models for small and midsized engineering shops, there is still a sizeable bottleneck standing in the way of mainstream adoption. That is, the software used to create the 3D content.
Sure, there are the tried-and-true 3D CAD and NURBS-based modeling tools, but not everyone with the germ of a product idea is a CAD specialist, nor do they want to spend the time learning a complex product. Enter a new genre of low-cost (many even free) and easy-to-use 3D content creation tools. These offerings are making it easy for anyone -- a CAD-savvy engineer or an aspiring hobbyist -- to easily create a 3D model of their concept and output it via any one of a variety of low-cost 3D printers or 3D printing services.
What's really exciting about this trend is that it's the engine behind what many hope will be the next wave of American innovation -- personal manufacturing. By putting the tools in reach, anyone with a compelling idea will be able to easily translate that concept into a physical working prototype without the baggage of full-blown CAD and without having to make the huge capital investments required for traditional manufacturing.
Click on the image below to take a look at some of the 3D content creation tools that will help drive this new personal manufacturing era.
My Robot Nation made its initial debut with the mission to give people with no experience or knowledge of 3D CAD tools the ability to easily create their own designs that can be output by 3D printers or 3D printing services. Now part of 3D Systems' content creation portfolio, the technology will no doubt be folded into the Cubify.com community to help orchestrate the movement toward 3D design and printing for the masses. (Source: 3D Systems)
@etmax: Good point about comparing the cost of these printers to expensive smart phones. Once you cross the $500 price point, you are definitely on par with a lot of equipment people are already buying.
As with any other technology, you must use the correct tool/process to get good results. The one who commented about the funnel, due to the constraints of the process, a funnel is probably one of the worst products to make using this process. Large work envelope and the finished product has a very low volumn of material for tha space it occupies. Similar to turning that same funnel from a solid piece of alluminum. Lots of empty space.
It is a prototyping medium. As such, anything made by this process can be made cheaper in volumn. There are some parts that will turn out to be cheaper by this process, and it may not always be obvious which parts are the best for the process. As a macinist I had some simple parts that could be made very profitably on the 1 CNC machine we had. Other simple parts could be made cheaper on a manual machine. We had some complex parts that were much cheaper when made on the much higher cost per hour CNC machine. Others that came off the more expensive process becasue the results were better.
The one thing this procees makes availbla is the ability to make a part without having to have a shop with a variety of expensive machines that require aexperience to run. It can be done by reltively unskilled people on a desktop. Now they just need to learn some of the other engineering that helps them understand the limitations of the process and products.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.