3D printers: Almost mainstream

December 23, 2011 | Source: Computerworld

WallRover. (credit: Smith Engineering)

Professional solid modeling tools such as AutoCAD and SolidWorks and 3D printer kits costing less than $1,500 are making 3D printing cost-effective and time-saving, says Computerworld in a comprehensive overview.

Richard Smith used a consumer-grade 3D “plastic jet printer” (TheĀ RapMan) and a computer-aided design (CAD) program to design a 3D model of the WallRover, cutting product delivery time from six months to two weeks.

Commercial models — capable of cranking out industrial manufacturing prototypes — that once cost $100,000 now start at about $15,000. We will see the emergence of on-demand manufacturers that use industrial 3D printers or personal 3D printers that cost from $500 to $5,000, says Terry Wohlers, principal consultant and president of Wohlers Associates Inc., which tracks the 3D printing market. “They will produce unique one-off or small-quantity items tailored to consumers or businesses that don’t want to bother with designing and printing items for themselves.”

Gartner predicts that the price for professional 3D printers that now sell for $15,000 will decline to about $2,500 by 2020 and will deliver better performance and more features.