3-D printing is hot. No longer an industry secret, the technology is transforming everything from medicine to home goods. With desktop models priced at about $2,000, more people are tinkering with consumer 3-D printing.
The global market for additive manufacturing products and services in 2012 grew 28.6 percent to $2.2 billion, according to an annual report from Wohlers.
"We have yet to conceive what will happen," said Ed Morris, director of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII).
Click to see how 3-D printing, which was on display at this year's RAPID conference in Pittsburgh, is changing industries.
Desktop 3-D printers are gaining in popularity. Costing around $2,000 or less, consumers can print a variety of homemade objects, such as a working wrench. The object was made with an UP! portable 3-D printer.
One hobbyist said he needed a toothbrush holder and a light switch. So he printed them.
In additive manufacturing of metals, lasers are used to weld metallic powder into structures. In other applications, spools of metal wires are beaded into shapes. No longer reliant on shapes that conventional machines stamp out, precision-casting companies can make complex shapes that previously weren't possible.
Years from now, cars and other modes of transportation could be manufactured more cheaply and more quickly and domestically via 3-D printing. General Electric recently announced a design contest in which participants create a 3-D-printable design for an aircraft engine bracket.
3-D printing has myriad medical applications. Prosthesis makers are using the technology to create custom artificial limbs, and additive manufacturers have found a way to fashion durable, plastic surgical instruments—that emerge sterile when printed on-site.
Because products are designed digitally, 3-D printing allows for mass customization of surgical tools.
The object is a functioning lamp made with 3-D printing. Unlike traditional fabrication methods, additive technology allows for the custom creation of nonsolid, honey-comb like structures. You'll soon be able to design your own home goods.
Furnishings and fixtures are just the beginning. Why not print wearable designs? Morris of NAMII wore one of these bow ties at RAPID. I wonder what June Jetson's dress would look like on me?
O-M-G. Pierre Renaux, a student at the Royal Academy of Fashion in Antwerp, has unveiled a line of shoes, all made using 3-D printing. Fierce and fabulous.
Because of additive manufacturing's ability to create complex shapes, more jewelers and jewelry designers are using it to create unique items or copy famous ones.
Always coveted a piece worn by a celebrity or historical figure? A 3-D printer can replicate it quickly and at a fraction of the cost.
A 3-D expert told me that toy manufacturers have used the technology for years. From action figures to dolls, imagination is the only limit. Expect more elaborate toys with complex structures.
Model enthusiasts have discovered 3-D printing. Whether trains, cars or historical schooners, get ready to see some creative renderings.
Andy Warhol's iconic Campbell soup can prints were just the beginning. As desktop 3-D printers become increasingly affordable, expect more artists to experiment with them.
"Tomato Paint Soup," from Emanuele Niri, was among the 3-D art pieces featured at Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum. The show was sponsored by Belgian-based additive manufacturer i.materialise.
Just as Warhol mass-produced art using silk-screening techniques during the 1960s, so artists today can use 3-D printers.
"I can imagine Warhol's Factory, today, packed with 3-D printers, printing his objects," show curator Murray Moss said.