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Alexa Boschini

Easy as 1, 2, 3D print?

June 4, 2013

A constant stream of press releases flows through my inbox, from the significant to the strange, but one in particular caught my eye recently. The subject line touted "the world's first full color 3D desktop printer," and I had to read on.

The release announced the launch of the ProDesk3D by Botobjects, a designer, manufacturer and software development company based in New York and London. Per the company's website, the ProDesk3D is intended for home and business use and aims to "demystify the process of 3D printing, while keeping the technical jargon under the hood - enabling everyone to load designs and get them printed easily with just a few clicks."

This technologically advanced process has made headlines in recent months, from controversial 3D-printed guns to a 3D-printed splint that helped save the life of a baby with a rare respiratory disease.

At a Las Vegas Market seminar I attended in January, the speaker mentioned 3D printing in passing and was met with a barrage of questions about the process. Frankly, the whole concept blows my mind. It seems like something out of Star Trek rather than a real manufacturing tool. But it's here, and I doubt it's going away any time soon.

In a nutshell, 3D printing involves translating a digital model, or computer aided design (CAD), into a three-dimensional object. Once the CAD model is completed to the designer's specifications and materials are selected, the 3D printer creates the object via "additive" manufacturing, or adding layers of material rather than traditional "subtractive" methods like cutting a piece of fabric from a larger selection. Social media and tech resource Mashable has a great article detailing the process.

The idea of 3D printing feels so futuristic to me, but the possibilities seem endless based on what people have already accomplished.

Designer Iris van Herpen debuted a 3D-printed dress, skirt and cape during January's Paris Fashion Week. The most recent James Bond movie, Skyfall, used 3D-printed replicas of a 1960 Aston Martin in an explosives-heavy scene rather than the real car. One start-up company is even developing 3D-printed meat. What's next - replicated tea?

The technology is also already making its way to the home and furnishings industries. In January, Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars announced plans to construct a building in part using a 3D printer. Designer Daily and the Huffington Post have showcased some impressive 3D-printed home décor, from accent chairs and tables to lamps and candelabras.

So how exactly will this futuristic tool impact the industry going forward? For now, the practice comes with a pretty hefty price tag - according to the press release I received, the ProDesk3D retails at an early order price of $2,849 for the standard edition compared to the $100 I spent on my all-in-one desktop printer (of course, my printer can't produce a vase). Professional models can fall in the $15,000 to $60,000 range, on up to $600,000-plus for the most advanced offerings.

And 3D printers do have their limitations - as magical as they seem, they can't produce every single design you could want in every material you could want. But, as The Economist argues, the technology "enables flexible production and mass customization." It's an innovative new manufacturing technique that, as is continues to develop, could change the way we create and produce.

What do you think? Would you consider manufacturing home décor products using a 3D printer? How do you think this technology could impact the industry?