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Monday, 22 July 2013 10:27

3D printing held back by patents

Written by Nick Farrell

Will take off soon

The use of cheaper 3D printing is set to take off when a batch of patents expires in 2014.

Duann Scott, design evangelist at 3D printing company Shapeways said that in February 2014, key patents that currently prevent competition in the market for the most advanced and functional 3D printers will expire. The important patent is one which covers “laser sintering” which is the lowest-cost 3D printing technology. Because of its high resolution in all three dimensions, laser sintering can produce goods that can be sold as finished products.

At the moment it is only possible to buy expensive 3D laser sintering printers, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars each. But once the key patents on 3D printing via laser sintering expire, we could see huge drop in the price of these devices, says Scott.

Key patents expired on a more primitive form of 3D printing, known as fused deposition modelling resulted in an explosion of open-source FDM printers that eventually led to iconic home and hobbyist 3D printer manufacturer Makerbot. When the patents on FDM expired the cost of such printers fell as little as $300. Scott thinks that the same thing will happen with laser deposition 3D printers.

Nick Farrell

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