3-D Printing and the Independent Inventor


Patented in the early 1980s, 3-d printing technology is now emerging as a trend. The process of three-dimensional printing is spreading through almost every industry with no signs of slowing. With 3D Systems’ ChefJet series, food can now be printed. Three-dimensional printed textiles were recently debuted on the runway at New York Fashion Week by designer Bradley Rothenberg. Even the medical field is experiencing the technology with research supporting the possibility and value of 3-d printed prosthetic limbs. The earliest applications of the technology were limited to research and development labs.

Leveling The Playing Field

With the cost of printing continuing to decline, the 3-d printing technology is becoming more accessible and consumer applications are still evolving. Inventors are more able than ever to bring ideas to reality from their own garages. According to Entrepreneur, consumer-friendly printers are on the market at a price less than $2,000 and 3-d services are readily available. By putting the most advanced manufacturing tools on desktops and throughout small businesses all over the world, 3-d printing effectively levels the playing field.

The Process of Inventing

Inventing is a really iterative process. Entrepreneurs learn by trial and error. For the process of prototyping, the inventor must know how each component affects the overall product, for better or worse. This is the case whether it’s done through traditional means or 3-d printing. Thanks to 3-d printing, this process can be streamlined in a timely and cost-effective manner. Traditional prototyping requires at least some craftsmanship, but 3-d printing makes it easier for people to bring ideas to life without getting their hands dirty, especially with the aid of open innovation platforms.

Information Exchange

Through participation in 3-d printing open-innovation platforms such as Lulzbot, Spark, and RepRap, users can legally make exchanges of digital information for products that will be 3-d printed. Members of the communities set around these platforms can access the files and computer-assisted drawings of other members for three-dimensional printing. With such exchanges, individuals with product ideas can access numerous product-design files that have been worked and uploaded. The collaborative exchange is beneficial in that it eliminates some of the early guesswork involved with the process of prototyping, making it easier for the conceptualization of ideas, which are then developed into prints. The access to platforms is especially helpful when an inventor makes prints of a product that contains a lot of internal components. Instead of using a lot of resources to visualize, develop, and print all of the necessary pieces, inventors can usually find the work in a preliminary form that’s free to access and ready to be printed.

Additionally, three-dimensional printing and computer-assisted design services are becoming increasingly available to inventors who have a vision or even a sketch but who lack the technical abilities to convert it into a printable file. Three-dimensional printing services have begun being offered for a nominal fee by major office-supply chains, UPS, and even some local printing and graphic shops.