The popular narrative around 3D printers is that, at some point in the near future, a desktop printer in every home will revolutionize manufacturing as we know it. 3D printers are already revolutionary products--most of them are still just a little too pricey, and more importantly, just a little too hard to use, to see that mass adoption. But prices are falling dramatically quickly, and there's a good chance 2014 will see some of the biggest 3D printing shakeups yet. Some major 3D printing patents are set to expire.
In February of 2014, writes Quartz, patents on selective laser sintering (SLS) will expire. After some key patents on fused deposition modeling expired, companies like MakerBot made 3D printing affordable for the first time. MakerBot's products are still more expensive than a normal consumer would want to pay, of course, but in just a few years prices have dropped from the 10s of thousands of dollars to thousands of dollars to hundreds, with more cheap printers popping up every few months.
So what makes selective laser sintering different? Accuracy. Shapeways uses the laser sintering printing process, which involves fusing a powder material of some kind with a high power laser. The Shapeways prints we've gotten in the past do a good job of demonstrating the level of detail this process allows for. Just look at how sad 3D printed Sad Keanu is.
And before long, when SLS technology goes open source, it'll make it to desktop 3D printers that we can afford. We'll give it a couple years before expecting a revolution, again, but when SLS printers cost less than $1000, there's going to be some very exciting competition.