Insofar as digital fabrication hardware has evolved at a steady pace, we were excited to see several new developments in additive and subtractive fabrication, though it was the former that was increasingly making headlines in the world at large in 2012. While the fabled tipping point for 3D printing remains elusive yet, this year also saw a bit of backlash to the growing hype, as well as a couple potentially far-reaching IP controversies, inevitable speed bumps for emerging technologies. Digifab evangelists continue to herald a shift from the economics of supply-and-demand to that of supply-on-demand, but our latest pulse-reading indicates that the market for 3D printers remains more niche than mass.
But even in the past six weeks, the ever-expanding horizon of 3D printing has grown into a legally nebulous space. While the Tangibot debacle quietly subsided after its Kickstarter campaign ended unsuccessfully in September, an (unrelated) crowdfunded 3D printer attracted a bit of unwanted attention last month. The upstarts at Formlabs had raised a cool mil in funding in the time it takes to 3D print something, netting nearly $3 million for their competitively-priced SLA machine within their month-long campaign (if you'll excuse the terrible but irresistible pun, the FORM 1 printer provided an early New Year's 'resolution' for the maker community). However, it turns out that the IP behind the two-decade old technology is a point of contention, at least for the longtime stereolithographers at 3D Systems, who are taking legal action against not only the newly-flush Cambridge-MA digifab outfit but their crowdfunding platform of choice as well.
If it remains to be seen if the Cubify case is a landmark for the brave new world of online entrepreneurship, we're also keeping our eye on Defense Distributed, home of the Wiki Weapon project, which raises the timely question of certain Constitutional rights that are far too complex and controversial to get into here. Now that Pandora's box is open, we'd like encourage discussion and proactivity on the part of legislators (once we get over the fiscal cliff, of course).
Of course, this past year also saw several promising new short-term developments in another area of digital fabrication, the acronymous subtractive process of Computer Numerically Controlled tools. We're looking forward to new developments (and hopefully news re: availability) for practical tools such as the World's Smallest CNC platform, a jigsaw-like handheld CNC cutter and the portable 3-in-1 CNC machine. (NB: This last machine is also equipped to extrude, but we haven't heard anything from PopFab since July...)
Even as 3D printing cemented its status as the flagship technology for the modern maker movement (a.k.a. the Industrial Revolution 2.0) in 2012, virtuous epicycles of DIY innovation remain on the threshold of public consciousness. We predict that the coming year will see even more widespread awareness of these technologies, while competition will grow more cutthroat as the saturated niche begins to crossover to a mainstream audience... to say nothing of the advances in prosumer-friendly SLA.