Brook Drumm

In this photo taken Wednesday, May 15, 2013 Brook Drum, the founder and CEO of Printrbot, displays and talks about his $299 portable 3D printer during the Hardware Innovation Workshop in San Mateo, Calif. With the printers users make whatever they like, iPad stands, guitars, jewelry, someone even made a rifle. About the size of a microwave oven, the printers usually extrude plastic, layer upon layer, to create objects. Sales are projected to jump from about $1.7 billion in 2011 to $3.7 billion in 2015. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

AP and KTVU.com

SAN MATEO, Calif. — Invisalign, a San Jose company, uses 3-D printing to make each mouthful of customized, transparent braces. Mackenzies Chocolates, a confectioner in Santa Cruz, uses a 3-D printer to pump out chocolate molds. And earlier this year, Cornell University researchers used a 3-D printer, along with injections of a special collagen gel, to create a human-shaped ear.

Once a science-fiction fantasy, three-dimensional printers are popping up everywhere from the desks of home hobbyists to Air Force drone research centers. The machines, generally the size of a microwave oven and costing $400 to more than $500,000, extrude layer upon layer of plastics or other materials, including metal, to create 3-D objects with moving parts.

Users are able to make just about anything they like: iPad stands, guitars, jewelry, even guns. But experts warn this cool innovation could soon turn controversial — because of safety concerns but also the potential for the technology to alter economies that rely on manufacturing.

“We believe that 3-D printing is fundamentally changing the manufacturing ecosystem in its entirety — how and where products are made and by whom,” said Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of New York-based Shapeways, an online company that makes and sells 3-D printed products designed by individuals. Products include a delicate, twig-like egg cup (cost: $8.10) and a lamp that looks like a nuclear mushroom cloud (cost: $1,388.66).

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