This Shapeways 3-D printer is working from a digital design to create an object out of nylon.

The Difference Between Makers and Manufacturers

Fans of 3-D printers and digital design tools argue that these technologies will transform the way we make goods. But can the “maker” movement really produce more than iPhone covers and jewelry?

By David Rotman on January 2, 2013

It’s not surprising that 3-D printing has captured the imagination of so many technologists. Create a digital design file or download one from numerous sites now on the Web, adjust a few settings, hit “Make,” and a machine will slowly print the thing, precisely depositing ultrathin layers of a material (usually a cheap plastic) until the object of your design sits before you. It’s a function instantly recognizable to any reader of science fiction.

The basic technology has existed for decades: a group of engineers at MIT patented “three-dimensional printing techniques” in the early 1990s. Companies such as General Electric have used additive manufacturing, as industrial versions of the technology are often called, to make prototypes and complex parts for airplane turbines and medical instruments. But the real cause of excitement is the emergence of 3-D printers that are affordable for consumers—at least those with a thousand dollars or more to spend.

The seemingly magical ability to “turn bits into atoms,” as advocates like to say, has made 3-D printers iconic tools for a growing number of people intent on do-it-yourself manufacturing. Depending on whom you choose to believe, they are comparable to the first affordable personal computers in the early 1980s—or to the Internet itself.

Read more: The Difference Between Makers and Manufacturers | MIT Technology Review.

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