The inventor of a new kind of 3-D printer says his research group will build a massive machine capable of mass-producing competitively priced plastic parts within two years.

Making plastic parts layer by layer according to digital instructions is a very slow process compared with conventional methods. That’s why additive manufacturing–or 3-D printing, as it is more popularly known–has thus far been economical only for making small batches of niche products like dental implants and hearing-aid shells. The new technique could increase the number of parts that can be made economically this way from thousands to millions at a time, at least for small, complicated objects.

Compared with conventional technologies like injection molding, additive manufacturing could significantly reduce material use and eliminate the costly machine tooling needed to make certain complicated shapes. It also makes it more practical to design unique architectures for parts that, for example, could help make automobiles and aircraft lighter and more fuel-efficient (See “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2013: Additive Manufacturing”).

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