Affordable, quick and easy-to-use 3D printers are changing the face of product design and development, bringing this additive fabrication technology in-house for many designers and manufacturers. Thanks to simple software and advanced technology, it is now just a matter of hours for a computer-aided design (CAD) drawing to become a three-dimensional model.
The term 3D printer generally refers to a class of rapid prototyping systems that are smaller, easier to use and less expensive than average machines. The term 3D printing is often used as a synonym for rapid prototyping, and research data often combine the two. Although rapid prototyping has been around since the late 1980s, 3D printing was introduced in the early 1990s. Since then, quality has increased and prices have gone down, making this technology affordable for even small companies. The Gartner Inc. research firm estimates there will be 300,000 3D printers on the market by 2011, according to Business Week. NextGen Research, in a study published in April, 2009, predicts 3D printing systems, services and materials will grow at a rate of nearly five percent to reach $782.6 million by 2013.
Rapid prototyping refers to a broad category of processes used to build models layer by layer from computer-generated STL data. Two common forms of rapid prototyping are stereolithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS). By contrast, Dimension 3D printers are based on Stratasys’ patented Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM™) technology.
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