EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Business

August 4, 2013

As cost goes down, 3-D printers begin to make an impression

Diego Porqueras’ Deezmaker store in Pasadena, Calif., is a geeky version of Santa’s workshop, brimming with action figures, chess pieces and jewelry.

But instead of relying on elves, Porqueras has built his own one-man factory using 3-D printers capable of churning out plastic objects within a few hours. He sells the printers, which go for as little as $650, at the shop, which opened in September in a strip mall.

The 37-year-old entrepreneur is part of an emerging industry for affordable 3-D printers. The technology has long been used in the aerospace and automotive industries, among others, to create prototypes, but has slowly crept into the consumer market with simplified printers that can be had for a few hundred or thousand dollars.

“You can make so many things with them,” Porqueras said. “People who have businesses buy them for making prototypes. Parents buy them to make toys for their kids. Hobbyists buy them because they like to tinker.”

3-D enthusiasts imagine a day when these printers are as ubiquitous as phones and people print out many household goods instead of stopping at a store. Small-business owners are already switching to these printers from more expensive industrial machines. Prices are expected to drop even further after key patents on 3-D printing technology expire next year.

Usually about the size of a microwave, these machines “print” three-dimensional objects by melting plastic and depositing the material layer by tiny layer based on a three-dimensional computer-generated design of a necklace, say, or a fork. More advanced — and expensive — printers can use materials such as metal and chocolate.

For those who are less tech-savvy, there are new smartphone applications that streamline the process of crafting or altering a design. Online markets have also popped up in which shoppers can customize and order 3-D-printed clothing, toys, gadget accessories and other products.

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