Whether you’re using 3D printing for prototyping or manufacturing, it is an incredible new prototyping tool that has opened all kinds of doors for hardware startups and entrepreneurs. Now anyone with some basic CAD skills can see their vision realized in tangible materials, and for negligible costs.
But what’s more exciting still is that we’re really only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of what 3D printing technologies can do. This is a rapidly moving area of technology that is seeing innovation upon innovation each year. What does it mean for the average maker looking to prototype?
To demonstrate the potential 3D printing has for hardware manufacturers, let’s take a look at three emerging technologies that are likely to have a big impact on hardware startups…
Some Recent Innovations in 3D Printing
Using a 3D printer used to mean either outsourcing the production of your design, or investing in a huge machine that would take up half of your room. Just like computers once did though, 3D printers have been rapidly shrinking, and now it’s possible to buy much smaller printers for your organization or even for your home. Some of these are small enough to fit on a desktop!
As well as becoming smaller, these printers are becoming significantly more affordable. This means that makers can now prototype and iterate from the comfort of their homes, far more quickly and affordably – potentially spotting problems and fixing them in time to save thousands!
Makerbot is one brand very much leading the charge in this field, so check them out.
Again, the ability to print in all kinds of materials is something that larger organizations have had access to for a long time. Now though, more and more devices are expanding their selection of printable materials. The aforementioned Makerbot for instance has recently introduced composite filaments capable of printing materials that mimic stones and metals in their appearance and behavior. 3D food printers have opened up a whole new category of hardware (and confectionary), while companies like Shapeways are constantly adding new materials to their roster.
This means you can create ornaments just as easily as you can create jewelry. It also means you can create products with functional properties like increased ‘bounciness’ or stretchy qualities. The more materials get introduced, the more options there are for creating unique products.
Lately, we’ve seen an influx of 3D scanners on Kickstarter, as well as from Makerbot. Flux is a device from Kickstarter that combines 3D printing with 3D scanning, laser engraving and more – all into a portable desktop device!
Eora 3D is still going on Kickstarter at the time of writing and promises 3D scanning for smartphones!
What does something like this mean for a hardware startup? There are several applications but most likely it will be useful as a way to quickly model objects that have been crafted using other materials (such as clay) that can then be iterated. The Eora 3D harnesses the power and optics of a modern smartphone, reducing costing which in turn, makes it possible to invest in a green laser with more advanced laser optics and powerful algorithms than a standard red laser. In short, this allows you to go straight from a proof-of-concept prototype to a design prototype/production prototype. More information can be found here about the benefits of 3D scanning.
Distributed manufacturing is a form of decentralized manufacturing practiced by enterprises using a network of coordinated geographically dispersed manufacturing facilities. Our good friends www.fictiv.com are doing similar cutting edge stuff in 3D printing – they take unused 3D printers in the area and allow makers to use them to prototype their products. Here is a link to a video interview we had with them recently.
And finally… teleportation!
While this technology isn’t available just yet, researchers have recently managed to ‘teleport’ physical objects using a 3D printer combined with a more advanced form of scanning. Basically, one device destroys the original item one layer at a time and then sends the data to a second device situated elsewhere that then reconstructs the item.
The great thing about this is that it allows for the inside of the object to be scanned as well, potentially allowing for far more complex creations to be mass produced without the original files necessary. While the original item does need to be destroyed for this process to work, that would only need to happen once in order for unlimited copies to be created.
And of course it could even have interesting applications for remote collaboration!