Advances in performance, and the durability and range of materials used in additive manufacturing and stereolithography offerings, are enabling companies to produce highly durable prototypes and parts, while also cost-effectively churning out manufactured products in limited production runs.
New printer platforms equipped with expanded build areas, and which offer the ability to combine materials, are also opening doors to a whole new range of applications, including leveraging 3D printing to prototype things never thought possible, like entire cars.
Click on the photo below to view a wide range of 3D printers, from half-million-dollar rapid prototyping systems to $1,000 home units:
Brought into the line via its acquisition of Bits from Bytes, 3D Systems' 3DTouch is a sub-$4,000, fully-assembled 3D printer, which offers a touchscreen for ease of operation. (Source: 3D Systems)
I suppose I should have guessed that MIT's Media Lab would come up with 3D food printing and cooking. I was half-joking when I mentioned 3D Easter bunnies. I wouldn't have imagined that anyone was actually doing that sort of thing.
Now you've hit on a subject near and dear to my heart--food! As some of the others noted, 3D printers are already actually being used in food preparation and presentation. I wrote about one particular project at MIT years ago. Cornucopia is a concept design for a personal digital food factory, which stores, mixes, deposits (and even cooks) layers of of ingredients, essentially "3D printing" them into the final product.
I have already seen some 3D projects in chocolate and pastes. I believe you can order custom "prints" from a sweet shop on the west coast.
More time spent on prototyping in the form of more time spent exploring design options should help optimize those designs. And that should at least give the opportunity for better testing and quality. That's what I'm hoping, anyway.
@Droid: Starting to happen already. There are hobbyist 3D printer kits for between $1,000 and $2,000, and 3D Systems recently rolled out a more office-friendly, packaged 3D printer in the ball park of that same price point. I think we'll be seeing a lot more options in this category over the next few months/years.
MIT students modified a 3D printer to enable it to print more than one object and print on top of existing printed objects. All of this was made possible by modifying a Solidoodle with a height measuring laser.
Siemens released Intosite, a cloud-based, location-aware SaaS app that lets users navigate a virtual production facility in much of the same fashion as traversing through Google Earth. Users can access PLM, IT, and other pertinent information for specific points on a factory floor or at an outdoor location.
Sharon Glotzer and David Pine are hoping to create the first liquid hard drive with liquid nanoparticles that can store 1TB per teaspoon. They aren't the first to find potential data stores, as Harvard researchers have stored 700 TB inside a gram of DNA.
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