The rising popularity of 3D printing has increased the popularity of CAD drafting at the consumer level, inspiring craftspeople to start their own small businesses and one-person workshops. But 3D printers are not the only advanced design tools that are increasing the capabilities of individual artisans. Though less well known, laser cutters open up new design possibilities to their users, and one company has plans to start bringing these tools to market as a consumer item.
New Levels of Availability
Laser cutters have been used in the manufacturing industry for years, allowing designers to make precision cuts and etchings in almost any material, ranging from wood, to steel, to leather, and everything in between. Laser carving can be used to create much more intricate, complicated designs than can be created by hand, at a speed much faster than other kinds of manufacturing equipment. For most of their history, laser cutters have been mostly confined to the domain of industrial and professional grade operations, available only to companies with big money to spend on pricey equipment. Though as often happens in the sphere of personal computer technology, what was once a sealed off space will soon become available to regular consumers.
GlowForge, a Seattle startup, recently announced the successful creation and testing of what they call a “3D laser printer:” a consumer grade machine uses precision laser cutting to manufacture items that can be designed on a home computer. The company’s co-founder and chief executive, Dan Shapiro, has announced that GlowForge plans to sell its 3D laser printer at a market price of around $2,000, a much lower price point than what laser cutters are traditionally sold for. By making the technology available to a new market of home designers and small shop artisans, Shapiro hopes that GlowForge’s revolutionary new product will open up new creative possibilities for the average consumer or small businessperson.
“Your creativity [will no longer be] limited by tools,” Shapiro told the New York Times. “Drop [your material] in [the 3D laser printer], hit a button, and have something wonderful come out. You can hit the button once, and you can have something that’s amazing and personal and unique to you. You can hit the button ten times, and suddenly you’ve got presents for all your friends. You can hit the button a hundred times, and now you have a small business.”
New Uses for Computer Aided Design
Once GlowForge’s 3D laser printer hits the market, the average computer user will have a whole new world of design possibilities opened up to them. Because the 3D laser printer will allow individual consumers and small groups of likeminded creative people to manufacture their products with levels of precision that were never available to them before, GlowForge will also be broadening the spaces in which CAD software and other digital design technologies are used.
Designers and artisans that are too impatient to wait for GlowForge’s 3D laser printer to go on sale, however, may not have to wait for that to happen. Laser carvers are also popular tools in what have become known as “makerspaces,” open facilities that provide DIY designers and creators access to professional grade manufacturing tools. At Cambridge, Mass.’s makerspace DangerAwesome, chief executive Nadeem Mazen reports that his 3 laser cutters see 20 to 30 times more use than the facility’s two 3D printers, which are harder to use, have more restrictions on what material can be used in them, and take longer to print.
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