3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is already the talk of town at SXSW and the topic of the opening remarks by Bre Pettis, the co-founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based MakerBot.
Launched at SXSW09 with Pettis bar-hopping with the 3D printer prototype and printing shot glasses, Makerbot’s main goal is to empower people to create stuff by making 3D printing accessible for laypeople. Their Replicator 3D printers are already delivering that promise. And for a small price too – you can get the basic model for under $2,000.
3D printing, for those living under a rock, is a process of transforming a digital design into a physical solid object. Like Photoshop has changed photography and Dreamweaver unlocked Web development for the common people, 3D printing is unlocking the ability to create things and there are already a lot of cases of companies and individuals proofing its use.
Robohand, the mechanical hand prosthesis for a South African boy called Liam, is an amazing example of how 3D printing can make what would normally be a fairly expensive affair an affordable product that changed someone’s life. Created by Ivan Owen in Bellingham, Washington and Richard Van As in South Africa and printed with the MakerBot printer, Robohand is a great alternative to expensive commercial prosthetics which can cost in the tens of thousands, especially when it comes to prosthesis for children which grow fast making the product even more unaffordable.
Baby respiration and breath Peeko Monitor, Square Helper that enables anyone to accept credit cards or 3D printer portraits by Comos Wenman are just a few examples of the use of the technology.
During the opening remarks, Bre Pettis has also revealed and demoed a new product, MakerBot Digitizer, a 3D Scanner that provides a quick and easy way to turn the things in your world into 3D designs you can then share or print. This makes 3D printing even more exciting and unlocked new possibilities.
There are still a lot of limitations to consumer-oriented 3D printing, the main being the substance used. Right now MakerBot printers are limited to plastic but the company is already exploring new materials such as silicon.
Whether you love it or hate it, 3D printing is making creativity more accessible and gives designers and entrepreneurs a real affordable shot at new business ideas. Definitely an industry to watch closely in the near future.