3D printing is similar to paper printing, except the printer creates 3D objects by spraying layers of plastic, metal or ceramics into shapes.
The technology has been around for a long time, but reductions in costs and improvements in sprayable materials is making it viable for a growing number of small manufacturing and personal production applications.
There's been a spurt of press around this topic of late:
Shapeways, a leader in personal production using 3D printer technology, has announced the opening of a New York city production facility. Shapeway users will be able to create their designs online and have them printed (manufactured) by Shapeways 3D printers in their new facility.
Also, the Institute for the Future has an excellent, if challenging to navigate, website on 3D printing. It's called The Future of Open Fabrication and it's well worth wading through.
The recent article A Strategist's Guide to Digital Fabrication, from Strategy + Business, is another good resource on this topic.
3D printing gets a lot of press as the future of manufacturing. We agree it will play a key role in the future, especially for small run manufacturing. But it's just one of many technologies making small and personal manufacturing more viable. We cover these in our small manufacturing category.
For more on this topic, see our 3D Printing Comes of Age post from last year. It covers 3D printing in more detail and has links to other resources on 3D printing.