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.
Above is the Google Trends graph. The top portion show the popularity of the term in search results and the bottom graph shows the popularity of the term in News articles. A marked increase can be seen in late 2011 and 2012.
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.
Given that this technology is becoming increasingly affordable it is reasonable to assume that the trends of these graphs will continue upward as more and more designers, engineers and managers are exposed to 3D printing.