Plastic printer that offers a 3D glimpse of the future

Click to follow

Forgotten your toothbrush? Never mind, just print out a new one.

What may seem like science fiction is scientific fact and these 3D printers are just a couple of years from being affordable home accessories, according to industry insiders. Using halogen lamps that melt powdered nylon, and technology that allows customers to download designs online, it will soon be possible to produce everything from a toothbrush to flip-flops.

Such printers have been used in industrial design stores for the past decade where they have been used to test designs for parts before being sent for manufacture en masse. But such machines used to cost around $100,000 (£50,000). In recent years that price has fallen to around $15,000 but in a matter of a year or two such printers are expected to be available for about $2,000.

Later this year, IdeaLab in California will start selling its Desktop Factory machine for $4,995. Chairman Bill Gross told The New York Times that the price could fall to $1,000 in four years. "The really powerful thing about this idea is that the fundamental engineering allows us to make it for $300 in materials," he said.

The printers, sometimes called rapid prototypers, build objects using specks of liquid or powdered plastic in much the same way as a traditional printer creates imagines out of dots of ink. The object is created out of a stack of very thin layers of plastic that can be hardened.

Hod Lipson, a professor at Cornell University, who led a project that produced a design for a $2,000 3-D printer, said: "In the future, everyone will have a printer like this at home. You can imagine printing a toothbrush, a fork, a shoe. Who knows where it will go from here?"