Lately, I feel like everywhere I turn, there's some sort of news or announcement having to do with 3D printing. And I'm not just talking about in engineering circles or in highly specialized magazines or Websites. We're talking about articles on CNN or MSNBC, even on local news stations.
All of these announcements (and we've written about quite a few lately) have to do with one thing: The price and accessibility of these once very obscure, highly expensive, and mostly out of reach technologies are plummeting down to a place where the small and mid-sized engineering organization -- and, more importantly, the average individual -- can, for a few thousand dollars (or less), outfit themselves with a ready-made inventing kit.
To be sure, lots of folks are talking up the whole "maker revolution" with the average Joe designing and producing everything from jewelry to his own gadgets and inventions. Small and mid-size shops can tap less expensive 3D modeling software and 3D printers to produce prototypes and even manufacture one-off or limited-run parts.
Just a few weeks back, Autodesk announced its Autodesk 123D, a free Windows-based 3D modeling program, which it is pairing with digital printing services from a variety of partners, including 3D Systems and Ponoko. Alibre recently inked its own deal with 3D Systems to offer a couple of software/3D printer bundles, and then there's the Autodesk Labs Photofly preview, which is a service that converts a series of regular digital photographs into a 3D model.
Now, Dassault Systemes is jumping into the fray. It is announcing a partnership with the 3D printing online service Sculpteo to allow users of its 3DVIA.com community the ability to order online 3D-printed versions of its 3DVIA-hosted models. Users click on the "Send to Sculpteo 3D Print" button on their 3DVIA model's view page, specify their preferred model size, and choose from a variety of print options. Final printed models are sent directly to the user's snail mailbox. 3DVIA is promising a bunch of extras with this offering, including analysis of the 3D model to ensure the best results, along with an array of digital repair and optimization services.