Many People believe that to be developing the latest cutting edge technology you either need to be based in a University research center or better still one of the world’s big electronics companies’ research labs. This though is changing rapidly and visitors to New York’s Flushing Meadows recently for the New York Maker Faire clearly had no comprehension that there ability to develop the next big thing might be limited: these do it yourself technology fans spend their spare time designing and making high technology in the same way most of us might design and build a set of shelves.
What the New York Maker Faire showed is that technology itself in the form of 3D printing is delivering into the hands of more and more people the ability to develop their own hardware and software and manufacturer prototypes with a basic grip of electronics and computing. It is the ideas that these people have that are important, either as individuals or as a crowd sourcing exercise to create something new. It may be that to get ideas to market including mass production, distribution and marketing big electronics companies will be needed but this is increasingly where their ideas are coming from and you can be sure most major electronics companies would have had people on the ground at Flushing Meadows to see what the latest ideas and trends are.
What electronics and other manufacturers are already aware of is how important 3D printing has become but they may have been surprised just how much of an impact it has had in the last year and just how many people have been using their own 3D printers to create parts and prototypes.
It was only earlier this year that plans for building a cheap 3D printer from parts available from local stores became available as a cheap e-book. Used along with open source and free 3D CAD software like Google Sketchup almost anyone, who wants to, can now print parts or finished items on their own 3D printing service or offer a 3D printing service to others.
Amongst the Do It Yourself Technology fans at the Marker Faire a 3D printer has become a must have. These include the very cheap and very basic 3D printers, which can deliver 3D printing services in cheap plastic to make usable parts but other 3D printers are more advanced including color printing, large scale printing and printing in different materials. These 3D printers are out of the reach of most of the do it yourself fans at the Maker Faire but 3D printing services from companies that specialize in rapid prototyping services are becoming more common, many have advanced 3D printers that can deliver 3D printing services to print moving parts and parts made of different materials and can even print circuit boards.
At the same time these advanced 3D printers will inevitably come down in price and be affordable to more and more individuals. The open source and collaborative approach of the do it yourself technology fans though also means that often those designing parts are then collaborating and parts will be put together as a 3D design made by many people: often dozens or hundreds; only one of those people or a company funding that project need have the ability to print out the finished parts.