3D Printing at home: MakerBot Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer.
The 3D printing consumer market has soared in the last two years with companies like MakerBot shaking up the scene by bringing high-quality desktop 3D printing to the home market.
Countless companies and DIYers have followed suit and we have seen a steady number of new machines appearing on the market thanks to crowd funding and a stronger awareness of the technology due to mass media buzz. Just go to Kickstarter now and search '3D print' to see what I mean.
Up until recently, there has been a very specific community of people who have embraced 3D printing and played with the infinite possibilities that can come from a desktop machine. The hacker and maker community has took the technology and brought us these images of things we would have otherwise not thought possible from a modest garage table workspace.
For the mass consumer market, plug in and go systems are available at a competitive price point for hobbyists to get stuck in without the hassle makers in the last 20 years would have endured of building the machine from scratch. Printers can be bought from high street stores, CAD files for free, materials from Amazon; it is so easy to get involved now.
Yet the majority of people are not. This makes me wonder what the industry needs to do or provide, to convince the public that it is worth investing in. Is it better learning tools? Simple apps? Integration? Or is it just time?
This week, Intel revealed they are to include 3D scanning technology into next year’s tablet range and maybe even smartphones. Through Intel RealSense technology, 3D scanning will be made available on portable devices, making the ability to scan and manipulate items without being restricted to a laptop or expensive scanning devices ever more possible.
Intel RealSense scanning technology will be integrated into tablets in 2015
Wacom mirrors the idea that ease of mobility is a key catalyst in getting people interested and developing 3D technology. The 3D design hardware specialists recently told TCT that their products, particularly, The Cintiq Companion are “capable enough to support a mobile, intuitive creative workflow.” By designing tools that fit into a designer’s natural working environment, it makes it easier to integrate that 3D printing manufacturing option because it complements the making process in a disruptive yet positive way.
These days, it seems like everything in life can be consolidated to an app. If you want to stay in touch with your friends, there’s an app. If you want to measure your fitness, there’s an app. If you want to edit photos, there’s an app for that too … and so on. 3D printing is also slowly being packaged into app form. A quick browse through the Appstore and you will find a growing number of applications from third party developers but also from key players in the industry. Like 3D Systems’ Cubify Draw app and the Isense scanner tool which turns your iPad mini into a portable 3D scanner (there it is again, portable).
Even giants like Microsoft have partnered with 3D Systems to improve their own 3D printing app and give it a much simpler interface with design options that can be easily adopted by the casual user and a cloud service that gives more scope for printing options. This tells us that 3D printing is moving in to a much more accessible home market. It is tapping into our daily habits and who knows might be paving the way for a world where we click ‘send’ from a 3D printer App as often as we check our Twitter feeds.
Microsoft 3D Builder App.
A quick question to the public showed that learning tools are something that people still want before taking the plunge with 3D printing. The tools are out there; introductions and courses for 3D printing can be found popping up all over the world but for someone who perhaps just wants to make novelty items at home, that might seem like a fair bit of commitment. 3D printing is still very experimental but times have changed and the out-of-the-box approach has certainly helped to increase the number of people getting into the technology. Yet maybe better tutorials, learning environments, apps, perhaps even honest horror stories of printing gone awry, would better equip people before diving into 3D printing and giving up before they’ve even started.
Of course hardware and material costs will still need to come down before the potential is there for the ideal ‘one in every home’ scenario. But just as iPads were once an expensive, luxury device that people now don’t think twice about splashing out on for their two year olds, if 3D printers can prove themselves to be a useful household tool, perhaps they might just do the same.