Friday, August 9, 2013

The Wave of the Future?

My wife brought an article on the Quartz site to my attention. It's on a subject which I feel will have a major impact on our hobby.

"Here’s what’s holding back 3D printing, the technology that’s supposed to revolutionize manufacturing and countless other industries: patents. In February 2014, key patents that currently prevent competition in the market for the most advanced and functional 3D printers will expire, says Duann Scott, design evangelist at 3D printing company Shapeways."

Read the whole article here

In effect this means the costs of producing 3D printing devices and the raw materials used in the process will drop dramatically from next year. It's already happened in one aspect of 3D printing. When the patents on Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) expired, the cost of the basic machine dropped from $14,000 each to just $300.

I think the implications for our own hobby are staggering. An influx of cheap 3D printers from China (where else?) will lead to democratization of the whole model manufacturing industry. Up to now it takes weeks or even months for a figure to go from a concept to production model, and requires specialist skills. With 3D printing it'll take only hours, and, to borrow a phrase from the publishing industry, it'll be Print On Demand (POD). No need for a lot of storage space with shelves groaning under the weight of white metal. Figures could be printed ready-based to any specified rules set, complete with flocking effect. One chore removed with a few strokes of a laser!

Yes, the quality of 3D models isn't quite there in some respects, but technology advances at such a rate it won't be long before there'll be printed models comparable to the best sculpts. And let's face it, hard plastic figurines are already making inroads into the traditional metal figure market.

Will the current figure manufacturers buy into this? Could it mean cheaper figures on the market? Will the means of producing models spread to encompass the hobbyists themselves, perhaps with a club or group subscribing to buy a machine and the relevant design software? Interesting times lie ahead. 


Chris Stoesen said...

Very interesting. I think Shapeways has really changed the way I shop for aircraft. Not sure what I think about miniatures yet. I think lead will be around for a while just because it "feels right" in ones hand. But as the cost of metal goes up and the quality of the plastics go down, I think you will see a change.

A J said...

I've yet to try Shapeways, but I am tempted by the aircraft available there. Another point in favor of 3D printing. It can give models of prototype aircraft and vehicles in general that just aren't available on the market.


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