@Janine, the prototyping industry has flourished for more than 20 years before it became cool to call stereolithography models (SLA's) as 3D printed parts! I have used them for more than 18 years now. The parts 'printed' do look very realistic. Now a days, you can buy pellets for many of the plastics in any color you want so it is hard to tell that from a final mass-produced part. But over time & depending on the material used, they do degrade. If they are mechanically functional parts (like plastic hinges, etc), they are good for a few rounds of show & tell.
@JanineLove: Yeah it helps a lot in printing the mechanical parts while building the concept or even in prototyping. Definitely helps in shortening development cycle. I don't know about the cost involved in 3D printing but would certainly be much cheaper than the usual way of prototyping mechanical parts. It also helps in visualizing stuffs easier in 3D form placed in front of us than looking at the pictures on the slides or CAD models on the computer screen...isn't it?
Yes, being able to easily go from a 3D scan of an object to a 3D printed copy of it just might be the killer app for consumers. I think we've all experienced the problem you described, where we only need a cheap part to repair a much more costly broken object, but the cheap part is unavailable. It would be worthwhile to many consumers to have a low-cost 3D printer just for that purpose -- fixing broken stuff around the house.
>> Being able to print out widgets and replacement parts etc. is great, but let's not forget the "holy grail" of 3D printing: printable electronics.
What will happen in this business will follow the typical laser printer evolution. You can use the cheap ones for your office operations but when you need scale like as we do in our company catalogues we look for printing companies. I am waiting for the price to crash to sub-$500
Sounds like @Max has actually seen protoypes in action from a 3D printer. Anyone else see some? Could you imagine them being really useful? I think this may be one of those products where many of the future applications were not predicted by the manufacturer.