Factories, the chief innovation of the industrial revolution, are cathedrals of productivity, built to shelter specialized processes and encourage the division of labor. Adam Smith, who illuminated their function on the first page of The Wealth of Nations, offered the celebrated example of a pin factory: "I have a seen a small manufactory… where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But the benefits of factories suggest their limitations. They are not reprogrammable: To make different products, a factory must retool with different machines. Thus, the first product shipped is much more expensive than the next million, and innovation is hobbled by need for capital expenditure and is never rapid.
It's less than two months before his company's initial product launch, and CEO Ric Fulop is excitedly showing off rows of stripped-down 3-D printers, several bulky microwave furnaces, and assorted small metal objects on a table for display. Behind a closed door, a team of industrial designers sit around a shared work desk, each facing a large screen. The wall behind them is papered with various possible looks for the startup's ambitious products: 3-D printers that can fabricate metal parts cheaply and quickly enough to make the technology practical for widespread use in product design and manufacturing. The company, Desktop Metal, has raised nearly $100 million from leading venture capital firms and the venture units of such companies as General Electric, BMW, and Alphabet. The founders include four prominent MIT professors, including the head of the school's department of materials science and Emanuel Sachs, who filed one of the original patents on 3-D printing in 1989.
Over the last few decades, it has been making waves in many industries around the world. This describes the creation of an object by adding material to the object layer by layer. Throughout its history, additive manufacturing has gone by various names, inlcuding stereolithography, 3D layering, and 3D printing, but 3D printing is the best-known. So how do 3D printers work? The process of 3D printing begins by making a graphic model of the object to be printed.
Additive manufacturing has been hyped for years. But in 2017 much of its promise materialized: 3-D printing took a series of big steps out of the realm of niche prototyping and into the world of mass manufacturing. Here's a look at some of the most impressive things 3-D printers made this year, as well as what their creations portend for the future.
ORLANDO--Hewlett-Packard today began taking orders for its first 3D printer, the HP Jet Fusion printer, which it said will be up to 10 times faster than existing machines and can cut the cost of manufacturing parts in half. At the RAPID 3D additive manufacturing conference here, HP revealed two models: the lower-cost and lower production 3200 series and the 4200 series, for which it is now taking orders. The 4200 series will begin shipping to manufacturers in October; the 3200 series will be available in mid-2017. HP originally unveiled its Jet Fusion printer in October 2014. HPs 4200 series Jet Fusion printer (left) and post processing station.