The mind-boggling world of 3-D printing - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

The mind-boggling world of 3-D printing

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The possibilities are endless with 3-D printing. Forget the old ink cartridges -- you can use plastic filament, metal, and fabric to make almost anything you want.

A company with customers here in San Diego is making everything it sells with a 3-D printer. One for your home will set you back about $2,000, a tempting treat for the gadget geeks among us.

From "The Big Bang Theory" to President Obama's State of the Union Address, 3-D printing has become one of the hottest high-tech topics. The concept is fascinating and intriguing.

3-D printers are making it possible to create toys, jewelry, a pair of shoes, and even human organs built with living cells.

"Our company wouldn't exist without 3-D printing," Tanya Alsip of Cyclopital 3-D said.

At Cyclopital 3-D in Fort Collins, Colo., they use 3-D printers to make cameras, camcorders and lens accessories.

Burgess says it all starts at the computer. First, you create a digital 3-D model of what you'd like to build. Then you send it to the printer. Instead of ink, the printer uses powder. It's kind of like building a sand castle, except in this case, the printer combines the powder with a binding agent. Layer by layer, it creates a solid three-dimensional object.

"It's really cool to watch the printer build the part before your eyes," an employee said.

Just for fun, Burgess downloaded a file from the internet of a 3-D CT scan, sent it to his printer and it printed a 3-D model of a patient's skull.

One of the best things about 3-D printing is you bypass the often costly steps to make a mold.

"Making molds is very specialized field of technology," Burgess said.

Hiring consultants and expensive machinery can cost thousands, and 3-D printing makes that a thing of the past.

"In most cases you can make the part in just one piece, where if you molded it, it might be three or four different pieces, meaning three or four different molds," Burgess said.

3-D printing also offers flexibility for this niche company. Cyclopital 3-D makes 3-D cameras and accessories used by filmmakers to shoot 3-D movies.

"Obviously it's not high volume, but it's high value and we can make changes on the fly," Burgess said.

Cyclopital 3-D also makes prototypes for people who bring in their own 3-D digital models. If you make it, 3-D printing can most likely build it.

"We can make it quickly, easily, and you can be holding the new product the same day," Alsip said.

So the benefit for this company -- and for inventors -- is that you don't have to worry about hitting a certain sales volume. A lot of manufacturing plants have a minimum order amount, and again, you can have your creation in your hands in about a day.

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