What's the Latest Development?

Is your Ikea desk missing a screw? Have you lost one of your earrings? Are all your forks dirty? Print another one! These are only a few of the possible applications of three-dimensional printing. Until now, 3-D printers have relied on casting techniques to produces copies of physical objects, but new technology from the Vienna University of Technology uses a light beam that hardens material according to direct specifications, allowing layer upon layer to be built in a small chamber until the object is complete. The new 3-D printer weighs a little over three pounds and costs $1,700.

What's the Big Idea?

While 3-D printing technology is still in its infancy, researchers already see a number of possibilities for its use. Not only can 3-D printers make exact copies of small household items at a fraction of the cost, such as hearing aid components which require very precise specifications, but 3-D printers could revolutionize the design world by allowing individual users to modify already existing technologies. And by producing novel designs on small, household-size printers, a new micro-economy may be waiting in the wings. "We will continue to reduce the size of the printer, and the price will definitely decrease too, if it is produced in large quantities," said Klaus Stadlmann, one of its creators at the Vienna University of Technology.