I was one of the 4,000 people who attended the Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo at the Javits Convention Center in New York during the first week of April 2014. Although 40% of the population sampled said they had never heard of 3D printing, it is clear from this conference that it is revolutionizing manufacturing, enabling new products, and impacting business processes. One speaker called it an industrial renaissance. Another said that the design-to-manufacturing value chain market opportunity is $35 billion. I think of it as an industrial revolution that will be equal to the impact of the Internet.
I could not resist buying an XYZprinting daVinci 3D printer to experience the printing renaissance myself. Free shipping from Amazon Prime brought the 50-pound printer to the doorstep in less than 48 hours. The unpacking and setup took less than a half-hour. Unfortunately, there was a problem with printer and I had to return it. Amazon had a replacement printer on the way as soon as I hit the returns link. My first object to print was an XYZ keychain to validate that the printer was working properly. I then printed a die (as in roll the dice) and then a pen and pencil holder. As I write this post, I am printing a toy elephant. You can see all of these items in my Facebook 3-D printing album.
Many find 3-D printing hard to imagine, but when you watch it happening, the concept takes hold. I first saw 3-D printing at IBM Research back in 1992. The machine cost many thousands of dollars. I next saw one in Greenland at a technology conference in 2008, but they have a come a long way since then. XYZprinting is a new company that started in China in 2013 and showed their new da Vinci at the 3D Printing Conference and Expo in April. It is priced at $499. I am pleased with it so far. Printing the toy elephant really shows off the potential. It starts out by printing four single-layer circles and you then watch them become feet. Then legs. After a couple of hours, some under-belly begins to show. The entire printing is scheduled to take 11+ hours. I will take a picture every hour or so and put them in the FB album. After printing a toy elephant for one of my grandchildren, I will focus on more important projects. With the 123D Catch app, you can take pictures of an object from multiple angles and then create a 3-D model, which you then can print. Have a drawer knob that is missing and for which replacements are not available? Just make a new one with pictures from another one. Custom made kitchen or office gadgets, holders, jewelery, vases, artwork, gifts of all kinds. The potential is only limited by your imagination. Visit sites like Thingiverse and you can find a large number of designs to download and print.
Epilogue: After four hours of printing, the elephant trunk turned out to be a mess of spaghetti. I am not sure if the digital model is defective or if the printer is not able to handle the complexity of it. I sent the picture to xyzprinting support and hopefully they will have an answer.