3D printing will explode in 2014, thanks to the expiration of key patents
The revolution in manufacturing that was supposed to come with cheap, desktop 3D printers hasn’t materialized because, frankly, the models they produce are basically novelties, handy for giving you a feel for what something will look like in three dimensions, but not really usable for creating prototypes that can be directly translated into molds for mass production, and certainly not usable for creating finished goods.
With the expiration of patents on laser sintering 3D printing, however, all of that is about to change.
Wow, this may be revolutionary. The beginning of the age of cheap, local, short-run production of all kinds of simple or very complex products, in full usable quality.
The products will probably not sell cheaper than industrial products produced in the millions, because of the economics of scale. But there will be an enormous levelling of the playing field, and probably an explosion of exciting new products, because we no longer will need to get financing to make a factory or even a big machine in order to get a new product into final production. Kickstarter will get busy like never before, except for those products which will become so cheap to make that Kickstarter will not even be needed.
It also means that the "Long Tail" will now now expand from being about digital products into the realm of physical products. And people with taste and needs which are off the mainstream will get much more choice, possibly beyond their wildest dreams.
It will also mean a lot for artists, sculptors particularly. Take for example the official DOMAI sculpture. It is a beautiful, wonderful thing, and those who have bought it love it. But to make it durable means bronze casting, and that is very expensive, so we have to sell even the smallest model (23 centimeters, 9 inches) for $890, which is a lot for most people in an economy like the current. With full industrial strength digital 3D printing, probably this can be brought down considerably.