The promise of 3D printing is really exciting. You download specs for a product — a unique lighting feature, a kitchen utensil, a toy for your child, an iPhone case — and without a trip to the store the product is made right before your eyes. The 3D printer has the potential to bridge the gap between DIY and manufactured products, to bring product innovation and and even invention into the home. The question is: how long do we have to wait before the 3D printer is as ubiquitous as the paper printer (or even the microwave) in our homes?
There are a few key players working on bringing this promise to life, and while it's still early in the game, an enterprising DIY innovator can get their hands on everything they need to start 3D printing today.
The MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3DEarlier this month, MakerBot, one of the original innovators in the DIY home printing field, announced their latest model 3D printer, the MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D. As its name implies this is a desktop device, with the prosumer, or professional consumer, in mind:
The Replicator 2 introduces the world of prosumer 3D printing. We made it stronger, faster, and finer than the original Replicator, and we optimized it to work with MakerBot PLA Filament. We also blew up the build volume without making the machine itself any bigger. The MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer is, as the name suggests, a desktop machine, not a it-needs-its-own-room machine. It's going to fit nicely where you need it and look amazing while it works.The MakerBot Replicator 2 will be available at $2,199, which when compared to the $100,000 range of most professional grade 3D printers, or even the cost of a decent laptop, demonstrates that these devices are clearly trending towards consumer affordability.
Another key player in the push to consumer home printing is Cubify, with the $1299 Cube 3D printer (pictured above). If you take a look at the Cubify website, the focus of this product is clear: this isn't a prosumer device, but instead one aimed squarely at crafters, home innovators and even children interested in 3D printing. Able to print objects up to 5.5" cubed, in a choice of vibrant colors, the Cube is plug and play, and can even connect to your computer via wifi. Even the software is built with the average user in mind — this isn't CAD, but something more akin to building with lego, making it really accessible to design your own 3D objects.
Even those less interested in designing their own 3D objects will likely find Cubifiy compelling, with their in-depth collection of printable objects available for purchase on their website, including everything from fashion accessories to unique lighting features, as well as toys, games, art and jewelry.
Fab@HomeOn the more DIY focused side of the home printing movement, Fab@Home is a platform of printers and software, with a world-wide community of makers trying to build a more open model for the future of 3D printing.
If you're an enterprising DIY builder you might find the Fab@Home route a bit more compelling, and you can check out their very in depth Wiki with everything you'll need to build a 3D printer from scratch.
The Tipping Point
Universal ubiquity, where the 3D printer is as common in our home as any other appliance, may still be 10-20 years away. The promise of 3D printed circuitry, more advanced materials, or even food may eventually move us towards something more akin to the Star Trek replicating than a conventional printer. For now the 3D printer may still be reserved for the niche maker or for generating manufacturing prototypes, but with products like Cubify's Cube becoming more accessible, it won't be long before we start seeing these kits show up in big box electronic shops.
With any tech there is a tipping where it moves from expensive and still conceptual, to being something everyone wants. Though we may be a few years off from the iPhone of 3D printers, these early options might just be the home stretch for a future of at-home 3D printing, for everyone.
(Images: as cited above)