Beyond the Hype and Hope of 3D Printing: What Consumers Should Expect
Apr29

Beyond the Hype and Hope of 3D Printing: What Consumers Should Expect

Share BY JASON DORRIERON   APR 29, 2014   The latest 3D printing Kickstarter smash hit, the Micro, raised its target $50,000 in eleven minutes. The Micro bills itself as the first truly consumer 3D printer—it plugs in with a USB cable, costs $299, and has raised nearly $3 million (and counting). In a quick survey, we recently counted no fewer than 35 funded 3D printer Kickstarter campaigns, and more were unfunded. CES 2014 featured some 30 3D printing booths. Even Martha Stewart is getting in on the action. 3D printing is hot, fires the imagination, and has all kinds of potential. 3D printing, however, is not for you. Or at least, that’s one prominent storyline. Beyond the hype, consumer 3D printers can’t make anything your heart desires—they mostly make junk, and there are only so many synthetic orange dinosaurs in top hats one person can collect. While this argument is true, after a fashion, the field is continuously improving. And not so long ago, affordable consumer 3D printers didn’t exist at all. The selection of desktop machines is growing. Desktop printers are increasingly available for around $1,000 or less. And setup is easier. Whether the printer connects by WiFi or USB, more printers are nearing plug-and-play. The Micro, for example, connects to your computer by USB. At 2.2 pounds, it’s lightweight compared to the3D Systems Cube at 9.5 pounds and more than that for higher-end models. Its auto-leveling and auto-calibration aim to reduce user intervention. The Micro’s software includes a touch interface for ease of use (though realistically, we wonder how many people will be using it with a touch screen) and allows users to shop 3D files online and store them in a library, ready to print. We won’t say it’s the “most” or the “first,” but according to M3D, their printer is comparatively quiet and power efficient. So, is it the first truly consumer 3D printer? We don’t know exactly what that means. If we did, we’d probably be rolling in dough right now. (Though the Micro is clearly on to something—they’re on pace to beat Kickstarter records set by Pebble and Oculus.) But what will it take for 3D printers to become standard household equipment like their less alluring 2D counterparts? Cost, speed, quality, ease, materials, and a reason to buy (that isn’t starry-eyed gear love) are a few key drivers worth tracking. First, cost. 3D printers in the sub-$1,000 range are often DIY machines (like the open source RepRap) requiring assembly. Pre-assembled consumer printers tend to be more expensive, like the 3D Systems Cube($1,300) or Zim (funded on Kickstarter) that will retail for about $899. The Micro,...

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