This is the first post of what I hope is going to be a lot of fun. Talking about my thoughts and progress with 3D printing.
There's a revolution ready to happen, and I intend to be right there when it happens.
But where and when?
Well as lots of people may be aware, 3D printers have become very cheap - The RepRap and Makerbots Thingomatic are prominent examples. But it is still firmly in the realm of hobbyists. More advanced high-quality (and reliable) printers are far too expensive at the moment, only available to companies, universities and Richie Rich.
Although nothing ages faster than predictions of the future, I predict that in 10 years we could be able to buy these printers for less than 500 bucks. We are forgetting the fact that these printers can make their own parts. If the ease and cost of making almost every part is low enough, anyone can enter the market and compete, driving the cost down.
But I'm not expressly interested in 3d printing at that scale. I'm thinking about 3D printing buildings. This has been done already.
The Dshape printer was developed by Enrico Dini, and patented last year. It can print objects as big as 6 x 6 meters (height is unknown...possibly 6+). In essence, nozzles spray a chemical ink over a layer of sand in discreet areas which harden in time for the process repeated. Its simple, effective and revolutionary.
In my conversations with Dini, the constructive quality and resolution is not high enough to create buildings from scratch - there are major limitations. However, these limitations are not as difficult to overcome.
In the meantime, there are limitless options for making money - artificial stones and objects, statues, sculptures, moldings, small sheds or shelters, molds for casting concrete or other objects. It comes in dolomite, grey or granite colours...not much variation at this point.
So the question for me can we take advantage of this technology and get a headstart on competitors? (There are - http://www.contourcrafting.org/) Obviously, market to virtually everyone. The start-up costs are somewhat prohibitive - a single 6 x 6 Dshape printer costs 280,000 Euros. However, the running costs are not as much you would expect. Electricity consumption is not high (peak 40 kWh, usually 2kWh), materials are not terribly expensive. At 15 - 30 cm of layering a day, a small bus shelter of 2.5 m would take 1-2 weeks! Plus, any screw ups would badly affect speedy production.
In retrospect, the technology has gone pretty far in the 5 years it has been moving, and following the speed of small scale 3D printing, we can expect reliability and quality in large scale printing to go up.