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The expiration of key patents will boost innovation
According to Founder & Designer at Bits to Atoms & Shapeways 3D printing advocate Duann Scott, the technology which could revolutionize the manufacturing industry is being held back by one thing: patents.
Scott says that in February this year, key patents which prevented advances in 3D printing and limited competition expired. The technology, known as laser sintering -- is a low-cost manufacturing process used in 3D printing, and allows for low-volume product creation.
The importance of laser sintering in 3D printing cannot be expressed enough, as the manufacturing technique produces goods that can be sold on as finished products. Not only this, but potential to produce low volumes of product has given birth to companies like Shapeways, who print designs for those who cannot afford their own machines.
Image credit: Louis Seigal
Cheap consumer 3D printers will enter the market
As key patents expire, we expect that 3D printers may follow the route of fused desposition modeling printers, used in the manufacture of thermoplastic products.
When FDM printer patents expired, 3D printing was born from the ashes, and just a few years after patent expiry the price of FDM printers dropped from thousands of dollars to as little as a few hundred.
We expect that the expiry of patents will lead to an open-source revolution in the next few years, and as a rise in competition forms, the price of 3D printers will drop.
At the moment, home printers cost more than a thousand dollars -- such as the MakerBot Replicator Mini, for $1,375 -- but five years ago, they were far too expensive for the average household to consider purchasing.
An additional element is the interest of China in 3D printing. The China 3D Printing Technology Industry Alliance plans to invest $3.3 million in the creation of 3D printing innovation centers in 10 Chinese cities. If the Asian country becomes involved in the manufacture of printers, it is likely that a flood in the European market could further drive down prices.
Image credit: Louis Seigal
3D printing will have its own app store
While Shapeways and Makerbot have already opened digital stores with 3D printed products and schematics respectively -- and it is possible to obtain others from torrents -- the idea is yet to fully take off.
We predict that more of these businesses will open over the next few years. While traditional printers are simply connected to a computer and print off documents, 3D printers are more reliant on core technology and software, and so a few apps to help with 3D modeling have also appeared in the Apple App store, Google Play and Windows Store.
It is likely that as the technology develops in the consumer realm, a dedicated app store will appear, as well as a dominant source for 3D files and schematics.
Image credit: Makerbot