In 2009 the 3D printing technology started gathering many followers and early adopters overnight and it led to the creation of Makerbot and to an explosion of open-source 3D printers. A similar event that triggered this 4 years ago is about to repeat itself in 2014.
We are not talking about some divine intervention or genius being born but about a more practical and legal event: the expiration of 3D patents. Like any other inventions, 3D printing has been protected for many years by several key patents. In 2009, the patent for a more primitive form of 3D printing called fused deposition modelling (FDM) expired. This process is what we normally see in the current consumer grade 3D printers that use a support material as scaffolding and a modelling material to build the actual 3D model of the object. This quickly led to a fall in price for these 3D printers and to the birth of a new movement of 3D printing enthusiasts and communities.
Something similar is about to happen in 2014. The patents for a more advanced form of 3D printing called selective laser sintering (SLS) are about to expire. SLS is a form of additive manufacturing that uses a high power laser to fuse small particles of plastic, metal and even glass powders into a mass to create the desired 3D object. This process does not require any support material like in the case of FDM and is capable of delivering better quality and more complex shapes without the look and feel of ‘layered material’ like it happens with most consumer 3D printers on the market.
This is an important step in the 3D printing evolution that will take us closer to the utopic democratization of manufacturing, which will allow people to create the things they need when they need them. Although this is only an ideal, the decreasing costs and improving technology means only one thing: 3D Printing 2.0 is about to start.