I have been aware of 3D printing – the ability to create out of plastic what ever you can design on your computer – for a while. But except for those who have built their own, it has been put of reach to all but engineers in large corporation and research facilities.
That is until now. According to this report from the CES in Las Vegas, there are a few companies that are now going to offer or are already offering this technology to the average (more or less) consumer.
With a whir and a click the job is done. In the space of 20 minutes a plastic bottle opener has been constructed by the Replicator – a 3D printing machine capable of making objects up to the size of a loaf of bread.
The device is made by the New York start-up Makerbot Industries and was launched this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The newly-created bottle opener feels warm to the touch and has to be prised away from its base.
It has been created by using extrusion technology – a process in which a spindle of plastic thread is unravelled, melted and fed through a print head which draws the object layer by layer – in this case at a rate of 40mm per second.
3D printing is nothing new – engineers and designers have been using it for more than two decades to create prototypes.
What has changed is that the printers are now being pitched at consumers.
The Replicator is being sold for $1,749 (£1,130) for the basic version that makes objects in one colour. An additional $250 buys a two-colour version.
Each spool of plastic sells for about $50 – enough to build a toy castle playset which would cost up to three times the price in a store.
“It’s a machine that makes you anything you need,” Makerbot’s chief executive, Bre Pettis, tells the BBC.
And this report from CNET which has a demo video.
In the meantime, the Cube underscores the idea that 3D printing can be consumer-friendly, and that a growing number of vendors see it as a viable business.
The design of the Cube printer is a contrast to the garage workshop aesthetic of the MakerBot product. Instead of the Thing-O-Matic’s exposed circuity and wooden housing, the Cube with its friendly-looking plastic chassis looks more like a sewing machine.
Other than in appearance, the two printers are not that different. Each relies on an attached spool of plastic: ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), the same material from which Legos are made, in the Cube, or ABS and PLA (polylactic acid, like that used for keg cups) in the case of the Thing-O-Matic. The plastic for each is available in assorted colors, and as the video above shows, it offers all kind of output possibilities.
And this one on Makerbot by CNET.
Expanding its product portfolio, MakerBot Industries today unveils the MakerBot Replicator, one of, if not the, first with the ability to print objects made from two different colors.
The Replicator starts at $1,799 for a model with a single extruder, and $1,999 for the dual-extruder attachment, which allows for two-color-printing (or Dualstrusion, according to MakerBot Industries).
This new model, a follow-up to MakerBot’s Thing-O-Matic printer, is unique for MakerBot in that it comes pre-assembled. Previous MakerBot products required user-assembly. MakerBot also boasts an increase in the size of printed objects for the Replicator. The Thing-O-Matic topped out at 5x5x6-inch objects. The Replicator will print objects as large as 8.9 inches by 5.7 inches by 5.9 inches.
Now these things are pretty nifty in and of themselves. I mean instead of running down to you big box store to by some plastic thingy that you need, you just make it at how to you own specifications. Even personalize it, if you wish. need more hangers or some plastic kitchen thing. How about special plastic ware for your kids birthday party. No problem.
But that is not to me where the niftyness really lies. No.
Where it lies is what will obviously be coming next in this area. From just plastic to where ? Aluminum or metal or a combination ? How about designer micro chips at home ?
This is not that far fetched people. The tubes in the radios way back when were only just warming up when Philo Farnsworth was working on television.
Not that far away folks….not that far away.