8Distributed and Flexible Manufacturing


3D printing has become an overnight sensation—after 25 years. A couple of key patents expired and a bunch of small companies jumped in to create super cheap versions of what professionals have had for years.

For the uninitiated, this is a device, much like a printer, that can produce three-dimensional things out of plastic. The higher-end versions can actually do rubber or mixtures of different kinds of plastic. The highest-end versions use metal powder that is laser sintered (melted) into three-dimensional things.

The most common of the 3D printers, however, is simply a printer that extrudes a continuous stream of molten plastic that cools quickly to a hard plastic. This allows a computer ...

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