C. Alex Simpkins, Jr., Ph.D.
The rapid prototyping revolution
We are currently experiencing another renaissance similar to the personal computer revolution which occurred in the 80's and 90's. The final form of these devices (and how they will be integrated into society) has not come to fruition yet, but there definitely is already a multi-billion dollar industry which has emerged. It is a time where small groups of individuals are innovating every day.
There was a time when the average person questioned why anyone would need a computer unless they were an engineer. Now little children make use of computers, and they are part of nearly every facet of civilization. That potential exists in for technologies that allow people to fabricate objects from raw materials easily.
Rapid prototyping can be additive, where objects are built by adding material from nothing, or subtractive, where objects are created by removing material from a raw shape such as a cube of aluminum. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. The most popular 3D printing methods today are additive. Some examples are the RepRap and MakerBot type printers. There are many things to explore and get to know when becoming involved in the world of rapid prototyping. It is supported by a massive online community, and volumes of web pages, books, videos, and conference type gatherings.
What will be the end result of this wave? Who knows. What is determined is that society is always to some extent in flux, and that the ability to fabricated objects from ideas easily will have a large impact on how we see and experience the world.
Mendel and other open source 3D printers
I'm currently tuning a Prusa Mendel, and will upload some examples, links, information, and hints soon!
Stratasys FDM 2000
see maelabs.ucsd.edu and go to tutorials and guides
The lasercamm cuts 2d parts out of many non-reflective materials. These parts can be used to build up 3d shapes. The precision of 2D rapid prototyping lends itself well to templates for routing, drilling, or circuit printing. A laser method of cutting lets one make inside cuts very easily. For example, the autonomous robot below was designed in CAD, and produced (at least the parts for it) with a LaserCAMM from a sheet or two of acrylic.
Additionally, the contest table for which this robot was designed was produced on a LaserCAMM after being designed in CAD.
otherwise nothing of note yet...but keep checking...