You can “print” multiple copies of your favourite toy, cell phone, DVD, MP3 player or even a house, potentially speaking. In Rock Hill, South Carolina, lies this factory of the future, which could be the harbinger of the next manufacturing revolution. In scientific terms, it could be called the next "paradigm shift" in manufacturing, allowing extremely cheap copies to be made of almost everything.
Several machines are humming away, monitored from a glass-fronted room by two people looking at computer screens. Some machines are car-sized, others are of microwave oven-size, but they all have windows you can peer into. One is making jewellery, others are producing the plastic grip for an electric drill, the dashboard of a car, an intricate lampshade and a bespoke artificial leg. One is even making parts to build more machines like itself.
3D Systems is a firm founded by Chuck Hull, who had invented a machine for making 3D objects as “stereo-lithography”. It works by using a beam of ultraviolet light to solidify a thin layer of liquid plastic, a bit-like ink, and repeating the process by adding more liquid plastic. More recently, other forms of 3D printing have since emerged but they all work as an additive process (additive manufacturing), building objects up layer by layer.