3D printing

Each day the gap between reality and science fiction seems to narrow.

Now 3D printers, which are already used for prototyping systems in large companies, have become accessible to the public – so it may not be long before anyone can draw and replicate products in their own garage.

3D printers create an object by successively layering material, which sets once cooled to create an object. They work like normal printers but instead of ink, you use cartridges of plastic. People are already employing them to fabricate iPod docks, jewelry, hair clips and toys at home.

The machines can be used to make just about anything in plastic, with some of the more expensive models able to produce objects made of glass and metal.

Rental companies can print designs on your behalf and models such as the RepRap are freely licensed for anyone to implement or adapt. The current version, called ‘Mendel’ can be built for around £350. 3D printers are also moving into the mainstream, with Hewlett-Packard having just released its first mass-market model, Designjet, costing around £16,000.

The implications for entrepreneurs are huge, with the printers removing costly development and production barriers to market. The knock-on effect for traditional manufacturing could be equally seismic.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for growthbusiness.co.uk when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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