There are numerous proponents of 3D printing, but the really innovative movements are coming from small start ups. A lot of large companies use 3D printing in traditional methods such as rapid prototyping, but one large company is showing how innovation is done.
Disney and the company's research facility in Pittsburgh are creating something pretty extraordinary with 3D printers. They call it "printed optics" and it fits into their future of electronics that are created on the spot to fit the immediate needs of the situation. Here's their description:
Printed Optics is a new approach to creating custom optical elements for interactive devices using 3D printing. Printed Optics enable sensing, display, and illumination elements to be directly embedded in the body of an interactive device. Using these elements, unique display surfaces, novel illumination techniques, custom optical sensors, and robust embedded components can be digitally fabricated for rapid, high fidelity, customized interactive devices.
The team at Disney Research has also put together a short video that shows the potential for printed optics:
The majority of the work done here isn't thanks to 3D printers. Most of it is the amazing engineers at Disney who keep on dreaming up these kind of technologies. 3D printers do, however, serve the ever important purpose of rapid prototyping. Without 3D printers, the research into printed optics would move along at a painfully slow pace as they waited for a skilled manufacturer to create the optics for them.
Disney may not have created the most elaborate 3D printing projects, but they are definitely working on one of the coolest. I can't wait to see where it goes in the future.
You can read more on Disney's research here.