Designing, prototyping, and manufacturing new components and devices has always been a complicated process. Computer aided design software, such as those CAD software programs reviewed elsewhere on this site, have gone a long way in simplifying the process but recent 3D Printing technology is arguably doing more to shorten the prototyping and manufacturing stages. Often CAD designs describe a perfect case scenario, fits and tolerances, assembly, and part interaction in software simply can not replicate real world objects.
The popularity of 3D printers has greatly increased in the past few years. A number of factors contribute to this. More materials for printed are being added every day with printers now capable of producing one off prints in everything from plastic to tool steel. Some forward thinking research groups have even started working generating even crazier things like chocolate structures and human tissue. As the technology continues to evolve it is breaking out of the research labs and R&D departments and becoming a part of the mainstream culture.
Mainstream media increasingly is picking up stories about the great new leaps in rapid prototyping and 3D printing. The evidence of the popularity is evident in the search trends, the below graphs come from Google Trends and Google insights and show the popularity of the search term "3D Printing" over time.
Below is a Google Insights graph, again for the search term "3D Printing". Of particular note is the nearly 5x increase in search popularity seen since the beginning of 2010.