3D printing has been making inroads into many industries from toys to aircraft manufacturing. We have seen several key technologies take hold in 3D manufacturing, and these fit into 2 main categories: (1) phase change technologies where filaments or powders are fed into a system, melted and then deposited in layers to form the 3D model, and (2) jetting of resins through a piezoelectric inkjet head where the jetted liquid cures and forms the 3D model one layer at a time. Key differences between the two are usability: while phase change materials can be used as final functional product, the jetted resins are usually used for prototypes only. Conversely jetted models have a greater degree of accuracy (i.e. below 20 microns) while phase changing technologies have lower resolution.
As we see from the WSJ article and videos most manufacturers deploy all types of 3D printing to cover the range of applications they might need to produce.
Also it’s clear from this article that many manufactures will not approve the printing of their products at home, citing liability, materials integrity and other considerations. With the proliferation of entry level personal 3D printers it will be interesting to follow these developments as “home manufacturing” of parts or toys is becoming increasingly feasible. There are issues for this field, though, beyond just product integrity, since patents and brand equity will play into this equation as well.