3D printers are expensive. There have been some valiant efforts to bring down prices, but the professional grade SLS desktop 3D printers still cost a couple thousand dollars. That all may change next year.
Quartz reports that most of the patents for a 3D printing technology called selective laser sintering will expire next year. With its expiration, anybody will be able to make a 3D printer that utilizes this technology without having to pay royalties to the inventor. The hope is that the savings experienced by the 3D printer manufacturers will be passed onto the consumer.
It's pointed out by Quartz that this scenario has already played out before. The patents for fused deposition modeling expired a few years ago, and their expiration led to the creation of the Markerbot Cupcake and dozens of other cheap 3D printers. This patent expiration also led to FDM 3D printers going open source which led to an explosion of cheap DIY 3D printer kits popping up all over the place.
Going back to SLS 3D printing, the expiration of these key patents will hopefully usher in an era of cheap, yet more advanced, 3D printers. Not to knock FDM 3D printers, but SLS 3D printers can print in higher resolutions and in more materials, like metal.
For more info, check out this video from 3D Systems that discusses SLS 3D printing:
And if you're in the mood to try your hand at making your own SLS 3D printer, check out this open source guide from Make Magazine.