Originally Posted by markjwyatt
There are lots of levels of technology available right now for 3D printing. The higher end is probably still pretty expensive, but this will change pretty quickly I suspect. The higher end includes metal additive, software, and of course know how. It may require some post machining to make it look nice in any case. 3D printing (aka additive manufacturing) is a technology that is going through rapid growth right now. In 5 years (which is plenty of time for now) much more will be possible.
For now 3d printing is good at showing what a molded part could look and work like if you actually molded it properly. And 3d prints today can be the final product too, assuming you don't expect much out of it. I saw recently someone was 3d printing spacers that allow 35mm film to be used in medium format cameras, and that strikes me as a good fit for current 3d printing tech, which is to say parts that are designed to do little more than take up space. Printing spacers? Yes. Printing a camera? No, at least not today.
The challenge is making 3d printing robust and attractive, like injection molded parts that are processed at very high pressure, optimized temps, with specialty resins designed for the job. It's unlikely that 3d printing will approach that for quite some time, but there is a lot of effort and investment currently with that aim in mind.