Forget flat ideas on paper -- tomorrow's next best thing comes to life in 3-D, thanks to new 3-D printers that are a growing trend.
"They've gotten more reliable, they're easier to use, the materials are better, so it's just like a lot of high technologies these days. It just gets better, cheaper and faster," explained Mark Kemper, the president of EMS, a Tampa-based company that's among a handful in the Florida that do 3-D printing.
It's how Lori Bredemeier and her husband gave birth to their unique baby-teething toys.
"They love the reactions they get when they walk by and they see a baby chomping down on a chicken wing," explained Lori, as she showed off the chicken wing teething toy.
The popularity of their product meant popping out new prototypes, such as a lollipop teething toy.
"Before, it took 11 to 12 months, and once we came here, even with all the collaboration back and forth, it only took a month," she said, with a smile.
Cutting down the production time is creating a lot of buzz around all kinds of inventions.
"It's everything from jewelry to medical implants to custom-made products. Anything that's kind of a low-volume, quick turnaround is sort of a good candidate for 3-D printing," Kemper explained.
The key to 3-D printing is the 3-D scanner. Its ability to get every angle so precisely produces results that look about as real as the real thing.
"Unlike traditional manufacturing processes that usually start with a solid block and remove material, the 3-D printers grow parts up, from the bottom up, layer by layer," continued Kemper.
The printing process is complicated and requires computer-aided design skills. After scanning the item, we head to the printer.
"We're looking at it, as you can see, in 3-D, and we can even stack them up in 3-D and print as many as we can fit in this bill chamber."
The printer glues together layers of powder.
"What's left in here is the unglued powder, which gets recycled," Kemper said.
The models are made of all kinds of materials from plastics to nylons -- even metals.
"The thing that really impresses me is some of this direct-made metal laser centering, so it's taking a powdered metal and melting it together with a laser, so that you can do very strong parts, very complicated parts," Kemper said.
The result means you can make everything from an intricate ear implant to a less complicated Mark Wilson mask they created for us. It only took five hours to print it -- and it probably only takes seconds to creep you out!
"Just shows what you can do with a 3-D printer."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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