The machine that fashioned the device is called a 3-D printer, and there are plenty of early adopters in the Washington area.
Travez’s company, Ashburn-based Prototype Productions Inc., was among the first small-scale manufacturers to purchase one in 2001.
The cost of 3-D printing technology and its availability to the average consumer and small business has changed substantially since PPI shelled out nearly $900,000 for the company’s Sinterstation 2500 Plus.
In May, for example, Staples became the first national retailer to sell a consumer-grade 3-D printer, called the Cube, at select stores. Produced by 3D Systems at its facility in Herndon, the desktop device retails for $1,299.
Still too pricey? Starting last week, you could use your library card to sign up for time on a machine at the District’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.
Proponents hail 3-D printing as one of today’s most revolutionary technologies. They say like personal computers and, more recently, smartphones, the devices will eventually be in every American home and fundamentally change the way we procure simple items.
Missing the battery cover on your remote control? Print one. Need a bracket for a home improvement project? Print it. After all, higher-end 3-D printers can already fabricate artificial body parts and functioning handguns.
Mass adoption is still years of way — if it ever does happen.
“In terms of adoption on the consumer side, I would say it’s really, really low currently. And I don’t see that increasing a great deal in the near future just because 3-D printing isn’t easy,” said Amy Machado, senior research analyst at IDC, a market research firm. “There’s a lot of steps that go into a final product.”
For the home
Nova Labs, a space for craftsmen and hobbyists in Reston, is housed in the former storefront of a tile distributor.
There is a workshop atmosphere with wall-to-wall folding tables cluttered with laptops, strands of wire, tool kits and half-empty Chipotle cups. The air smells like something is burning. That’s because something is burning. A laser cutting machine is searing through leather.
On a recent Monday evening, members of Nova Labs tinker away on rudimentary 3-D printers that they’ve built from a box of parts. Once assembled — the fastest was built in about eight hours — they use plastic filament to print small trinkets and widgets.
“We lowered the bar enough that a lot of folks who would never even think about [building a 3-D printer] would talk about doing it,” said Brian Jacoby, president and co-founder of Nova Labs. “Most folks, if they can figure out which end of a screwdriver is which, they could actually put it together.”