For the past few weeks or so, I have been conversing back-and-forth with my cousin-in-law about 3D printing. Apparently, some sort of hobbyist 3D printing shop has opened in his home town of Pasadena, and my geekier-than-me relative has been chomping at the bit to see what the consumer-level 3D printers can build.
Since my special brand of geekiness has already assured that the bloodline stops at my branch of the family tree, you can imagine the uber-nerd fest we both have been having, trading links on Facebook about the different things that rapid-prototype machines and 3D printers can achieve.
For those who are not familiar with the technology, the name really does give away about 90% of the special sauce. Using a plastic in lieu of ink, 3D printer can actually build three-dimensional objects in a process not that dissimilar to your home ink jet printer (Jay Leno has been using 3D printing to replace impossible-to-find parts for his classic car collection).
The more robust and industrial units use lasers to shape and heat the plastic ink, and are able to achieve a high-degree of object resolution. We can think of more than a few electric motorcycle startups that are currently using this rapid-prototyping process to develop their street and race bikes. It’s very fascinating, but also very expensive stuff.
This is where the consumer side of the equation comes in, as the post-industrial form of 3D printing has not only rapidly increased in its ability to flawlessly create a high-resolution object, but the cost of both the 3D printer and its “ink” have dramatically dropped. Hobbyist models are now in the $400-$2,000 range, and could soon be as ubiquitous as the printer sitting next to the computer you are using to read this article.
As the price-point drops and resolution increases further, the consumer end of this technology could rival the industrial side of 3D printing, and that is where things get real interesting for the motorcycle industry, and manufacturing in general.