If people’s predictions for the spread and uptake of 3D printing turn out to be right so that 3D printers become as common place as 2D printers in the home and businesses and almost completely replace tooling machines then the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be looked on as the power behind it. MIT have pushed 3D printing forwards leading the way for nearly twenty years; they developed the first practical 3D printer back in 1993 and have been at the forefront ever since. They have spawned ZCorporation who are still based nearby and take on many MIT graduates and Interns they are the world’s most trusted and most used 3D printing company for Rapid Prototyping services and more.
Rapid prototyping services are what have made 3D Printing initially a technology that pays for its own development and MIT are set to become rich in future with a large number of 3D Printing patents. The latest technologies MIT have developed include printing moving parts and printing in a number of different materials by being able to use not just powdered plastics but also powdered metal and ceramics that are then hardened by the 3D printing machines. For rapid prototyping services such technology is invaluable. Product testing can now be done with realistic and working models that can be printed as one offs and with slight variations to compare different versions and different ergonomics. For rapid prototyping services the speed and cost of 3D printing services are vital as well so slight changes can be made to a 3D CAD file and then a new version printed in hours or less rather than made in days or weeks.
It is thanks to ZCorporation themselves and MIT at it is now much quicker to get a product to market using rapid prototyping services and many would argue the technology levels the playing field for smaller manufacturers: who can keep up with competitors with much bigger research and development departments that can afford the high cost of developing new products that may or may not be successful.
The next stage for MIT and 3D printing may be to bring it all together as it were: the technology for fast 3D Printing, cost effective 3D printing, for moving parts and for different materials need to be put into one commercially available 3D printing machine then 3D printing will really take off. This is the case with many technologies though where first comes the development and then the prices slowly come down; as prices come down the number of uses where 3D printing is cost effective will increase. The cost per unit manufactured will be vital as well as the cost of the machinery, especially if the 3D printers themselves remain in the hands of 3D printing service companies who then make their services available to clients who can’t justify a 3D printer themselves. That MIT will continue to lead the way seems inevitable but the extent to which they make use of their intellectual property available to other research departments and companies such as Z Corporation may impact on how quickly 3D printing develops as increased competition will inevitably lead to a decrease in price.