Patent Expirations Expected to Lead to 3D Printer Popularity

Patent Expirations Expected to Lead to 3D Printer Popularity – by Tara Ortner

                3D laser printing is a process that is gaining a lot of popularity in the industrial world due to its ability to produce virtually any shape from digital modeling.  This printing utilizes an additive process in which successive layers of material are laid down in many different shapes, differing 3D laser printers from other types of machining that use cutting or drilling methods.  Used for both prototyping, and distributed manufacturing, the applications of these printers are becoming very prevalent in the engineering field, and there is even several 3D printers found in the DLC shop.

Because of their advanced use of digital technology, many assume these printers are very expensive and therefore uncommonly found in most shops.  However, as demonstrated by Christopher Mims in “3D Printing Will Explode in 2014, Thanks to the Expiration of Key Patents,” the price of 3D printers is expected to decrease dramatically in the coming year.  Mims reveals that various patents are currently preventing competition in the market for the most advanced and functional 3D printers, as they cover the laser sintering technology (1).  The evidence to this prediction lies in past experience with expired laser patents.  When the keys patents expired on fused deposition modeling, there was an explosion of open-source FDM printers, paving way for multiple printer manufactures to come forward.  These expired patents immediately allowed printer prices to drop from the thousands to only $300.

However, these dropping prices may not be entirely beneficial to the manufacturing world and multiple factors need to be considered when assessing printer prices.  Primarily, people need to that not all 3D printing technologies are consistent with one another.  Mims mentions that home 3D printers most likely are not currently available because the resolution of home printers would not provide the same quality as high-powered manufacturing printers, making the printer incapable of producing reliable prototypes.  This is a fundamental purpose of 3D printers and deterring from it is an aspect many need to consider when looking to the future of 3D laser printing and its value in the manufacturing world.

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