The technology for 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has existed in some form since the 1980s. However, the technology has not been capable enough or cost-effective for most end-product or high-volume commercial manufacturing. Expectations are running high that these shortcomings are about to change.
Several technology trends are feeding these expectations. An emerging class of mid-level 3-D printers is starting to offer many highend system features in a desktop form factor at lower price points. Printer speeds are increasing across the product spectrum; at least one high-end system under development could print up to 500 times faster than today’s top machines. And key patents are about to expire, a development likely to hasten the pace of innovation.