While 3D printers have been around for some time, they've generally been used to create rapid prototypes that give the designer an idea of what the final product will be like. Now it appears that some people are taking it to the next level by creating real mechanical devices and the results appear to be extremely favorable.
Engadget is reporting that Amit Zoran of the MIT Media Lab has designed and printed a fully-functional flute. The musical instrument was printed on a Connex500 3D printer, and the only non-printed items in the instrument are the springs for the keys. The entire printing process took roughly 15 hours with assembly taking a bit longer. While it's difficult to judge the acoustic qualities of an instrument via a YouTube video, it appears to be a fairly impressive reproduction. Seth Hunter, the man in the video who is testing the newly crafted instrument, offers a few suggestions for enhancement but overall seems impressed by the flute.
While the technology is still in its infancy and most people do not have the CAD skills to design objects for their own use, are we entering an era where we will be able to create many items "on-demand" in our own home instead of running out to a store? Or will there always be a market for products that have a proper fit and finish that can't be obtained from a 3D printer? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.