In a few years, 3D printers will become a consumer electronics commodity. Today you can buy a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic, “the latest in cutting edge personal manufacturing technology,” for $2,500. You can plug it into your computer via USB, load up some freely-available 3D modeling software, and print stuff; it really is that simple. The only real barrier to mass adoption is the initial purchase price, and the printing material itself isn’t cheap either.
Both of these costs will tumble in coming years, however. Printing — or additive manufacturing — techniques will improve. 3D printers will speed up, and the choice of colors and finishes will expand. For now these magical printers are just the plaything of prototypers, inventors, and gadgeteers, but sooner rather than later they will find a place in the home. To begin with they will be attached to a family computer, but it’s safe to assume that wireless versions that can sit on the kitchen worktop won’t be far behind.