Three-dimensional printers are getting a lot of hype at the moment. In February, MakerBot Industries started shipping its Thing-o-Matic desktop 3D printer, which, at just $1,225, “democratizes” 3D printing, allowing you to “live in the cutting-edge personal manufacturing future of tomorrow!” The same month, the typically restrained Economistheadlined a story “Print me a Stradivarius: How a New Manufacturing Technology Will Change the World.” Business Insider even called it “The Next Trillion Dollar Industry.”
The idea, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is pretty simple. You create a 3D design on your computer or download a premade blueprint. Then you press print. Your printer squirts materials out of a nozzle that is sort of like an ink jet printhead, and builds up the object gradually, one layer at a time. When it finishes and the object has cooled, you have a new thing. Not a picture of a thing, but the thing itself.
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