Get ready for the big bang as 3D printing patents expire



I love this. Vehemently. This is the most exciting thing to happen to humanity since … well, you know, the internet revolution, the industrial revolution, the discovery of penicillin - name it.

The economic impacts are going to be profound and durable.

It sounds like you see them as good impacts, so I’d love to hear some elaboration. Because I hear an all-too-familiar echo of various other promises of a more Utopian future, thanks to technological advances.


I’d be interested to hear your vision. 3D printing doesn’t float my particular boat, so I haven’t investigated it much, though we do have a professional 3d printer at work that is very handy for communication between the mechanical engineers and non-mechanical engineers.

But I just think of how I have a 2D printer at home, and I only use that a couple times a year. That said, I’ve long since learned I’m bad at predicting the effect of disruptive technologies. I can’t even predict my own behavior a year from now.

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More localised printing (we don’t need them at home really) means less transport and to and fro of goods. Less inventory holding, less money tied up in the whole system of getting a doo-hicky to my house. Busted part on my bike, fetch one from 300 yards away.

Less money tied up => cheaper goods.

More quality production at cheaper prices. Good print designs for eg cups will flourish. There will be a license fee in the patent period, but to sell them, they’ll have to be cheaper.

I’m riffing on your behaviour being a technology. Makes me wonder!

Call me a tad picky, but I get slightly annoyed when you guys use TLAs to describe stuff which is, to you, commonplace. I cannot see anywhere in that article where it explains what “FDM” stands for, and I have no clue what that acronym or abbreviation might stand for. I could Google, but the article should be self-contained, no?

As 3d printing becomes cheaper custom built pieces will become commonplace. Imagine shoes built to fit -your- foot? This is a compromise we accept all the time and would quickly and seamlessly adopt ‘bespoke’ shoes as an “It’s about god damn time!” solution. That is but the tip of the laser sintered iceberg (?!) A friend of mine is having his knees replaced and having them custom printed (which is pretty routine now), but because of the superior strength of the technology he is going to machine chambers into his new bones and add electronics that will give him geolocation and cell phone tech built into his body. He is an artist and so is content with the metaphorical implications more than what solution it allows, but time will reveal unpredictable practical applications for this technology which is only in its infancy. Eventually 3d printing will mean each voxel can be any material you want. I will just leave you with that to think about.

The possibilities of an all ‘bespoke’ world are not even within our comprehension. We are so attuned to mass production that we believe it represents our democratic ethics. When that disappears craft will flourish. We are seeing it already.


In Safari I can right click and in the context menu click look up and i get a pop up with this text and more

FDM may refer to:
Science and technology

  • Fat in dry matter, a measurement of fat content for foods with varying moisture contents
  • Finite difference method
  • Free Download Manager, a full-featured download accelerator and manager
  • Frequency-division multiplexing
  • Fused deposition modeling, a technology used for rapid prototyping"

I purchased a 3D printer a few months back and have now printed somewhere around 150 hours. Some amount of what I have printed has been useful (new shower hooks I designed myself, for example), but much more of it has been things for my 7 year old to play with, or me just screwing around…calibrating and recalibrating for the heck of it (last night I printed a human face bust about 2"x3" at 0.10154mm/layer at 200% my normal speed with no support or infill just for the torture test).

My point is, at this stage, 3D printers are not what they will be. They are generally for tweaking-loving geeks like me, and those with some level of artistic vision that would be difficult to accommodate with other creation methods. Not far in the future though, as resin and power printers become more common, just about anything in plastic, ceramic, etc. that you would normally be required to go to a store to buy can be made at your home. Need more mugs for your get-together? Print a few, bake them in the oven for an hour and you’re good to go.


Right now, the desktop 3D printing technology is about where the Personal Computer industry was in about 1978. There are a raft of new companies and machines to chose from, but it is still very much a hobbyist item. There is little out there in terms of existing designs that you can leverage off of, so it is still very much driven by individuals who are skilled in various areas. (CAD, materials, machining).

This article alludes to the significant difference between 3D printing and where the PC technology was in 1978 (or Internet technology circa 1995) and that is that the 3D printing market is using existing technologies. While the PC market needed to wait for technologies to be developed, such as greater than 640K memory, the >1MHz processor, or 16 bit addressing, the 3D market isn’t really waiting for any technology breakthrough. The technology exists. It has only been an artificial limitation brought on by companies not licensing their technologies for a reasonable cost.

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FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) is explained in the article that was being quoted, prior to their use of the acronym. Cory doesn’t actually use it in his additional comments on the subject, though I suppose he could have modified the quote to explain it better.


I’m waiting for the 3d printer that can, with needle pricks alone, replace my spine and discs. 's gotta be possible.

Who told you what I was working on?

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David Cameron.

Hmmph. I’d still rather go to Goodwill for them.

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I don’t think a 3D printer in every household is going to make sense for a long while yet, if ever. Most things are well beyond 3D printing. You can’t 3D print a transistor. You can’t 3D print anything with even vaguely high tolerances. That said, a local 3D printing shop would be fantastic for the handful of times a year when it would be useful.

Perhaps more importantly, if you are the type to tinker, good 3D printing could be awesome now. Like cheap LEDs, only a subset of the population is going to go nuts with the technology, but for those folks, 3D printing is going to be awesome. It is all pretty niche, but those niches will love it. Indie board game designers are going to love it. Artist are going to love it. Folks who tinker or build stuff are going to get a kick out of it. I am sure that there are countless other folks who would kill to be able to make an arbitrary shape quickly and cheaply without having to have specialized skills or tools.

It isn’t going to be an internet level revolution, but I bet some fields really notice. My personal pet field that is going to go nuts are boardgames. Being able to make cheap 3D printed objects to mass prototype is going to be killer in a field that is already experiencing a renaissance.

If you use them just a few times a year, it’s probably less impactful in terms of water and energy use to just use plastic cups and recycle them.

There are printed resins with fillers, like metals or carbon materials. There are printable metals. That gives us insulating plastics, conductive and semiconducting plastics, and metals. So why can’t you print a transistor? 10 um transisters (the limit for some SLA, though FDM and SLS are less precise) are useful for lots of basic functionality. There are also photopolymer printers with 30 nm resolution (Nanoscribe). Right now none of them are useful electronically, but you can make optical metamaterials that way.

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The real advance SLS gives you over FDM is that it can print a wider range of materials - metals, and some ceramics, and some thermoplastics that the filament producers haven’t developed yet for FDM. But metal SLS printers use a multi-hundred-watt laser (which sell today for thousands to tens of thousands of dollars on alibaba), and a build chamber heated close to the melting point of metal under an inert atmosphere. So while yes, expiring patents will probably cause SLS printer price to fall a lot, they will not be $300 in 7 years (the time since Stratasys’ patents started expiring).