3-D printing, the next step in prototyping currently and the future of mass production.
3-D printers are being used for all kinds of tasks today. In our Hex-labs makerspace tour we saw their wall of printers working away at various projects. 3-D printing gives a physical prototype to something you only had to imagine and then plug into software on your computer. What used to take model builders hours and sometimes even days could now be roughly completed in a day at most for the average hobbyist. Even big corporations are finally taking the leap forward with 3-D printing being used to make the models for molds that would later be used for the mass production of toys or other such things.
Even the food industry is taking ideas from the 3-D printing world.There were several 3-D printers shown off at last years CES that were solely used for printing food. They could print in sugars and chocolates and were able to produce edible art that would never have been possible before. They even had an inkjet style printer for cakes.
You can find all sorts of information about makerbot here: https://www.youtube.com/user/makerbot and also on their website:
3-D printing is also not nearly as expensive as it used to be which allows small businesses to use it to make products or to give their possible investors a tangible idea of what they want to accomplish. Only a few years ago 3-D printers were at least a couple thousand dollars if not more. Now the cheapest starter version of the makerbot, one of the prime 3-D printing companies, is a mere $1,300 dollars alone and around $1,800 for a full starter kit including plenty of filament for printing.
Filament is also becoming readily available. You can walk in to a Frys electronics and choose from a wall of different plastic types and colors.
3-D printing is the future of our lifetime and beyond.