We have a Cube on loan at the moment, courtesy of those fine folks at 3D Systems in Rock Hill, South Carolina and whilst my erstwhile colleage Jim Woodcock has been playing with it from a more technical point of view it struck me that this machine is something very different, very different indeed.
You see, 3D Systems are playing a different game to many of the other companies in the 3d printing space. Sure they have many industrial machines to sell, and they do that very well indeed. But it is above and beyond this where you find an almost evangelical passion for 3D printing and the impact it can have on this world beyond industry. This spreads from the CEO, Abe Reichental and his executive team all the way down and the Cube is part of the sharp end, the reality of this evangelism.
Out of the box the Cube is ridiculously simple to set up, as Jim Woodcock says in his blog here. Thirty minutes from opening and you are creating a 3d printed part, and within those thirty minutes every single staff member in our office had come round to have a look at it in action.
And thats the beauty of the Cube. Not everyone in our company works in the 3d printing space. Certainly not our HR or accounts people, neither does our IT contractor, and they have all been into my office in the last week because they heard about this science fiction machine and they couldn't believe it, and came to look for themselves. Now they want one to play with, or want to get one for their kids this Christmas...some have ideas about what they could do with it, the others just want the latest cool gadget and they'll figure it out from there!
Some of these people have been with the company for as long as I have, and we've always had what was rapid prototyping, now 3d printing, technology all around us. Parts, machines, videos and so on, yet the Cube is the first time most of them have taken any notice at all. Is that because there is a huge mainstream media hype right now? Maybe, but I also venture to suggest it is because the Cube looks good, works instantly without hours of calibration, can sit on anyones desk, and anyone can get it working...it is accessible in the extreme.
It is a simple machine, it cannot do the same sort of things that an SLA machine can do. Neither can it do metals or multi-materials - but then you cannot buy any of those machines for less than £1,000 and thats where this machine stands out as the sharp tip of the evangelism.
This machine enables anyone to get involved. It enables all people of all ages to get to grips with, understand and actually produce a 3D print and that is inspiring.
My daughter is three years old, and greets me every night at the moment with, "What can we build today Daddy?". Now she is only three years old but she is growing up in a world where technology develops at a ridiculous rate and the Cube has added to that. She has had her perception of making things turned upside down, last month it was paper, glue and scissors, now its 3d printed objects...and the imagination and ideas just tumble out.
Now back to its simplicity for a second, it does lack the sophistication of more expensive machines, but that is a good thing. This machine isn't for industry, for engineers, for manufacturers or for scientists. They've all used more capable machines, this is a machine for children, for students, for parents, for consumers. They dont neccesarily have CAD design skills, but they can download a file and press print and make a 3d printed product. It also helps that the machine looks the part. Hat tip to Cupertino on the packaging! But hey, thats a good thing to resemble right? I love getting goods from those guys too!
Now before anyone says revolution..I hate that word in this context. it's not the start of a revolution. But we are seeing something happen that will be important in many ways, but it's going to take time, a lot more time than mainstream media would have you believe. We won't all have machines in our homes tomorrow, most of us probably never will. Many of us though, might well have a Cube and it's future derivatives, and others will come into contact with Cubes and learn about 3d printing and then purchase a product that is 3d printed on other machines.
This is where this product is a groundbreaker. This is a starter pack for the early adopters in consumer land. It is shiny, it is accesible for all and it will be delivered by Santa Claus to many houses next week and you couldn't say that about 3d printers two years ago. It will be very interesting to see what happens next.
Talking of next, 3D Systems will be exhibiting at International CES in Las Vegas, January 8-11, taking their Cube and other consumer brands to the masses. We'll let you know what goes down...