Why 2014 will be a great year for 3D printing

2013 has been the year of the desktop 3D printer. Will 2014 be the year industrial 3D printing takes off? Here's one reason to be optimistic.
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor

There's no denying that 2013 has been the year of the desktop 3D printer. They're now carried by major retailers, like Amazon and Staples; Windows 8.1 has built-in support for 3D printers; and Makerbot, the popular desktop printing company was aquired by Stratasys, a much larger additive manufacturing company. But, while U.S. President Barack Obama called 3D printing the "next revolution" in manufacturing earlier this year, it's 2014 that could be the year industrial 3D printing takes off.

Why? As Christopher Mims of Quartz reports, important patents for the more advanced selective laser sintering form of 3D printing (which has been around for decades) will expire next February. While these patents have been the highest revenue generating intellectual property of University of Texas for years, their expiration could mean cheaper industrial-grade 3D printers -- much like what happened when fused deposition modeling (FDM) patents expired -- and wider distribution of laser sintering 3D printers, which isn't currently happening on a scale that can be true disruptive in the manufacturing world. As Mims reports:

One of Shapeways’ problems is that the company can’t buy enough advanced 3D printers (the laser-sintering kind) to keep up with demand. This is because 3D Systems, the company that makes the models that Shapeways uses, has a 12- to 18-month waitlist for its printers. Cheap laser-sintering 3D printers of the sort made by Formlabs, which sells a desktop laser-sintering 3D printer for $3,300, could finally give people the ability to manufacture (plastic) parts of the same quality as those mass-produced through traditional means.

The bottom line: Starting next year, industrial-grade 3D printing could become cheaper and more accessible, a boon to those hopeful that 3D printing can transform manufacturing.

Read more: Quartz

Photo: Flickr/Shapeways:

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