If you are like me, you have been watching the 3D printer space with much enthusiasm in anticipation of the moment when consumer-friendly 3D printers make their way to market at a price Joe Public can truly afford.
There has definitely been some traction in achieving that goal. Makerbot, the best-known maker of 3D printers for enthusiasts, has been steadily releasing models that raise the functionality and appeal more to the mainstream. And we recently reported on 3D Systems putting its stake in the ground with the Cube, its $1,299 consumer 3D printer offering.
Now there's a new kid on the consumer 3D printer block: Solidoodle, founded by Sam Cervantes, a former aerospace engineer who served a stint at MakerBot. His startup has just released its self-named printer, with a base price of $499.
The $499 Solidoodle is fully assembled and supports a slightly bigger build area (six inches cubed) than its predecessor. (Source: Solidoodle)
The second version of the pre-assembled printer has been refined to offer a bigger build area (six inches cubed, where the original model sported four inches cubed), and it weighs just 17 pounds. The technology, according to specs on the Website, is Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) -- another way of saying Thermoplastic Extrusion -- and it uses a 1.75mm plastic filament (ABS recommended), which costs $45 for a two-pound spool.
Solidoodle is based on the RepRap Sanguinololu v1.3a Electronics open-source 3D printer project. Accuracy, according to the documentation, is about 0.3mm (layer height) or 84dpi, but officials say it's possible to achieve 0.1mm in some cases. Cervantes says the printer software can accept models from any design tool that produces an STL file, meaning that it could be used with most popular CAD programs.
In a video explaining the product (shown below), Cervantes said his company's goal is to make 3D printers more affordable and easier to use than before. So far, the unit's been put to work to output everything from children's toys, popular household items, and architectural models to what Cervantes said is the favorite print: the bottle opener.
With entries like Solidoodle, the Cube, and even the still-to-be released Origo (a sub-$1,000 3D printer for kids we covered previously) pushing down the price point, it's only a matter of time before the decision to buy a 3D printer is no different than the decision to buy an office printer. And that's when the creative games will begin.
Beth, these are iteresting things, but they are bucking a trend I am seeing. What I am reffering to is printing. What I notice is that I do not print much (and it is not for a lack of printers). My two teen age sons don't either. One is in high school and the other in college. The college student get most, if not all of his textbooks in .pdf form. He reada them on his Kindle. The trend in books and magazies is toward electronic editions.
So, while I think there is some really interesting stuff going on in the area of 3D printing, I am not sure that an inexpensive home version will really take off. When holographic displays become feasible, that will put another dent in the market. That day is not far off either. We have become consumers of information, not stuff, believe it or not.
Good point naperlou. There's more consumer perceived value in experience today. "It's not what you have, it's what you do." I don't see this being used in homes. Small businesses and start-ups can benefit.
A $500 base price makes me wonder what's the real final cost. Are adds-ons necessary? What's do they cost?
@Naperlou: I see your point about moving away from hard copy output, but I think there is a difference between printing out a page of content that you'll then throw away with having a pseudo, low-cost manufacturing mechanism to output your ideas for cool gadgets and stuff. Perhaps the newness factor will eventually fade, but for folks who haven't been exposed to the wonders of 3D printing, I would think they'd dive in just for the experience.
@Nadine: I know there is a slightly higher-priced version with a cover (less industrial looking) and some added bells and whistles, but I don't know about additional add-ons after that. There is the cost of the material, which I think I said was $45 per spool.
Beth. Thanks for staying on top of this industry. I for one think it's very exciting to go from an idea on paper to a physical part in your hand, cheaply and quickly. This capability has the potential to excite a new generation of designers and inventors by giving them rapid development tools. Imagine what tools like this might do in the hands and minds of high schools students for example. Let the designs begin!
@Scott. I agree that getting these printers in schools is paramount, both to their success and as a key tool for pushing STEM and giving kids innovation power. I don't think we're that far off from that. I've seen reports about a bunch of schools adopting these printers through grants or some sort of funding. And as the prices come down, it will just get more so. When my kids started elementary school eight years ago, there were no smart boards in their classrooms. Now almost every class has one and we do not live in a rich district. As prices come down, these technologies become mainstream. It's the usual cycle.
Yes, thanks Beth for staying on top of the 3D printers. I'm a somewhat late adapter with technology because price and functionality or technology is inversely proportional. As time goes on prices will drop and the technology will get better and better.
I think its a mistake to equate 3D "printing" with 2D paper output; in fact I think its a mistake to call it printing at all. That was obviously a marketing ploy to make the concept more digestible. 2D paper output can never be more than a poor representation of an object, whereas the ouput of one of these machines is actually an object. It may not have all the attributes of the final product, but it can fulfill many (especially ergonometric) and therefore can make an excellent prototype. In Engineering (and especially R&D) there is no simulation, no rendering, no anything that is as good as having a physical prototype of what you are contemplating. And the ability to create a prototype quickly and cheaply is a huge game-changer. Larger 3D prototypers (i.e. "printers") have become very poular as a result. This machine brings it home. How many of us (ME's anyway) have (or lust after) machine tools in our garage just so we can build stuff? A $500 3D printer - are you kidding? I predict they'll sell a bunch.
I completely agree – I've been involved with SLA's since their earliest days circa 1988.Once several internet-based services popped up, where .STLs could be instantly quoted and parts delivered via FedEx within 2 days, I thought that was a breakthrough (Which it WAS.)But now, even quicker, to see a rough model being generated in-house (in MY House) – this is easily within reach of my small consulting operation – Yes, I will be taking a closer look at getting one.
@naperlou: I don't think you can make a comparison between traditional printers and 3D printers. It's true that people, especially young people, are increasingly comfortable reading things from a screen, and thus have less need for "dead trees." Design News itself is a great example of this. I still get the paper edition, but I spend more time with the online edition, largely because of the ability to have discussions like this one.
But a physical object is fundamentally different from a document or a visual representation. Words and pictures can be read either on a page or on a screen. Ultimately, it's a matter of preference. But 3D printers allow you to produce actual things which you can hold in your hand.
Philosophers have spent the past several thousand years discussing what an object is, but I think most of them would agree that there is a difference between an object and its representation. That's the difference between 3D printers and traditional printers.
This printer is definitely going on my wish list -- but since, like you, I have one kid in high school and another in college, right now I have a lot of other expenses which take priority over all the neat toys I might like to have.
I agree with Dave and Beth. The inexpensive 3D printer will find a niche. There are tons of small gadget makers out there who would drool over the ability to create prototypes. While Heathkit may have failed, it's not for lack of creative, inventive souls who could use an affordable 3D printer to bring their ideas to life.
Heathkit went down because of the cost of labor. When all electronics was hand-wired, a Heathkit stereo amplifier was quite a bit cheaper than ready-made - you provided the labor. A high-school kid with reasonable soldering abilities (me) could afford a much better stereo by putting a little of his own time and effort into it.
By the middle sixties, that had changed. Printed circuits and wave-solder machines removed much of the labor content from ready-made, while the labor content of kits (kitting the parts for an individual unit and answering calls from kit-builders who screwed up) remained constant or rose. The support requirements, especially, rose - early phenolic printed circuits were prone to delaminate with only a little extra heat, easily provided by an amateur whose enthusiasm was greater than his soldering skill.
As the prices of ready-made fell, the prices of kits rose. Heath (and others) pushed hard on the educational value of kit building, but if you came into kit-building with good soldering skills, it was just more practice. If you came into kit building without good soldering skills, you probably added to the support costs. Meanwhile, absent other talents, good soldering skills are not a really big asset in one's employment anymore - and that's about all you learned from kit-building.
3D printing offers much more than kit-building ever could. When I built my amplifier, I was following instructions: someone else had done the creative part. 3D printing allows one to be creative and have, not just the image of one's creation, but the actual object. I'll have one of these babies in my basement as soon as I can fit it into my budget - easily within the next two months.
Good analysis, Oldguywithtoys. You're right about Heathkit being more of a paint-by-the-numbers project. When I was working on the kits as a kid, it felt like I was creating something, but it really was just following instructions.
@oldguywithtoys: I like your analogy to the days of Heathkit. My day was a hobbyist and into computers way early on. I remember when he was down for the count recovering from gall bladder surgery, the dining room table was spread out with all his components as he built this massive TV (which I believe they still have). Any way, just as the early Heathkits appealed to a certain segment of users, so too do these early 3D printers. But I think what this model brings about and what is fast happening is the price/performance curve is rapidly getting to a point where it is more accessible to folks beyond the early adopters like you and my dad.
naperlou, I agree with you about no printing being needed. But when you create an object, at some point you want to hold it in your hands - it's so natural. I think 3D printing will always have a practical place in the design process.
Think of these things as prototypers, not printers. Instead of paying a machine shop for a prototype, you can do it. There are a number of these "printers" that provide varying degrees of finished object functionality. For example Objet produces printers that can generate completely functional geared assemblies that do not require build, they are functional at completion. These lower end units can generate parts that can be used to verify fit, with a little bit of finishing.
Warren, you are correct in that the tipping factor is part complexity. Also, the earliest RP parts from 3D systems, for example, were resin-based and very fragile if thin sections were in the part. But there have been huge advancements in the way differing machines work, and what materials are available. I have had RP parts made that were steel using a metal powder/laser fusing type machine. Not all parts have stresses that need to have prototype parts rendered in metal to be functional. My most common use of RP is to do parts that will ultimately be injection molded in plastic, and the RP parts allow me to test assembly fit AND FUNCTION, prior to making committments to very expensive injection molding tooling. In some cases I have been able to specify RP materials that were functionally durable enought to do Beta field testing with.
Sorry! But, your argument still holds for the most part, as these assemblies may not be fully functional as production parts/assemblies and their cost is relatively high, the cost of the printer, material, support, etc.
I get your point about a generation who are "consumers of information" but all the "information" in the world - even presented in holographic form - won't perform the physical work required to actuate a valve, energize a circuit, move a solenoid that unlocks your door, heats your home, grinds your coffee beans or flushes your toilet.
You can dream all day long about an information based society - but as long as mankind has tactile capabilities and phalanges with which to manipulate tactile objects, there will be stuff. And the irreducible reality is that stuff has to be manufactured in three dimensional form.
Of course, it's horribly old fashioned of me to say this.
Good points, Ockham. But more and more it's digital information that is used to design and manipulate the physical items. I heard of one instance at a utility plant where the last plant operator who knew how to shut down the plant retired. The plant managers had to bring in the automation vendor to show them how to shut it down.
Yes - shocking to hear these kinds of loss of institutional knowledge. As engineers, we have a profound responsibility to those who follow us, elsewise we may well end up as creatures enslaved to a system beyond our understanding (much like H.G. Wells' Eloi and Morelock in the Time Traveller)
I firmly believe that every engineer needs to see that they live into three professional relational realities. I call it the"Mentor - Peer - Protege" model.
In brief, my thesis is this;
We each need a patriarch who is investing down in us (especially as that patriarch approaches their "own end of service" :-)We should pursue those relationships, and invite by our trustworthy behavior and humility that kind of handoff from such a patriarch.
At the same time, we need a body of peers around us, a group with whom we can share ideas, entrust our own knowledge and sharpen our skills...build a tribe, so to speak.Again, trust - respect - honorable methods to share, agree and especially disagree in a civil fashion.
Finally, we ourselves must be building down into the next generation of engineers, deliberately pursuing relationship with those who will one day take our place. We must stop viewing the protege as a competitor, an enemy, ignorant, untrainable or unworthy of our investment.
Of course, this is such a minority view tha no one will ever publish my book, much less purchase it.
Nice ideas, Ockham. I think sometimes, there are breaks between generations due to advances in technology. I see a break between the millennials and the boomers on technology. So, what might have been a mentor / protege relationship is broken because the two generations do not speak the same technology language.
That's a very good point, Rob. With technology a core competency of this current generation, the idea of being mentored by someone who might not possibility understand the appeal of community on Facebook or isn't wowed by any of the new cloud-based and mobile-based design tools is sure to appear outdated to the new generation and therefore, written off as a non-resource. That view is certainly shortsighted because we all know just because you don't cling to devices 24/7 doesn't mean there isn't a wealth of engineering experience to be mined.
I agree, Beth. This whole generation thing is critical for those in technology now. Apple seems to be able to stay ahead of the changes. As for Microsoft, I agree with Larry Ellison's assessment that MS missed the Internet and still hasn't caught up. And speaking of Oracle, I'm not surprised to hear they're embracing cloud-based delivery after putting it down for years.
As for Facebook, there has been tons of negative chatter. GM pulling out just before the IPO was huge. So we see the statistic that only 17 percent of Facebook users click on ads. Well, 17 percent of 900 million is a lot of people clicking on ads. But they're buying games, not Cadillacs.
I think we have to get past the thinking that engineers are going to incorporate something like a Facebook into their work processes. The point I'm trying to make is that the up and coming generation is used to communicating in social venues like FaceBook and making use of mobile apps. Because that paradigm is engrained in the way they do everything, they are going to want their serious business tools, i.e., CAD, concept design tools, collaboration, etc., to work in much the same fashion.
They're going want to provide feedback or get feedback on designs, but they'll expect the commentary and collaboration to mimic what they're used to on FaceBook. Being able to search for stuff, like stuff, easily find experts/peer designers, upload models or images for review. It's really about the user interface paradigm, not the specific social network platform and certainly not a public social network platform. For now any way.
Yes, Beth, I agree about the generational change in the use of technology tools. Those graduating from college now will be very adept at these tools and will expect them to be available in the workplace.
Warren, just because YOU don't have an application doesn't mean others don't also. With the six cubic inch capacity of this unit, your $50 figure would likely not even cover the aluminum material costs, let alone any machining. If the part was complex (easy for a 3D printer) the machining costs would skyrocket. I know, I use a 3D printer AND I routinely send small parts out for short-run (never only one) machining in aluminum, material included, and that $50 figure is laughable. Try adding another zero.......
Perhaps you are right, but the $50 figure is good for small parts. Been doin' it for years.
The complex parts are another issue, but it depends upon what you want to do with the part when you get it. The material from the printer will not allow it to actually be used, where the aluminum part can be used- in most cases, of course.
I love new technologies. I even had a large cover for a medical instrument prototype made from these things. But the cover had no stress, did not have to be bolted down, and was just sitting there.
I know there are many uses for this new technology. But I am used to getting a prototype part I can actually use.
Check out www.objet.com. You could print out a fully functional complex assembly that has a number of materials that range from stiff to very flexible in the most pricely printer. The output of the printer could actually be the production part for certain items that require what plastics can provide. So, if your product can be plastic, and in low volume, you could not only prototype, but manufacture too. The low cost printer in this article appears to be able to produce less functional things but still appropriate for certain shops/hobbyists.
Based on what I can see about this company, I don't think this is a printer intended for anything beyond experimental prototyping of parts or end-ready products more suited to the hobbyist/consumer user. While they are making headway with tolerances, the printer doesn't YET have the palette of material choices available compared to more expensive models nor would it be able to crank out a part that could rival one in structure and integrity built with traditional RP capabilities. At the same time, this is the first offering so who's to say what will come.
If the 3D printer marketplace dynamics mimic the 2D printer marketplace, several years from now, we will start to see cheaper and cheaper 3D printers coming out of Asia and other low cost regions. I remember a time when the first HP laserjet printers were introduced into the market and were built mostly in the United States. Soon afterwards, we started seeing this technology being manufactured from Asian countries. I wouldn't be surprised if the lower end 3D printers start to go this route also.
Maybe this type of technology isn't all that necessary for your typical engineer, designer or cad professional. Technical people are generally able to visualize based on cad drawings and/or 3d models shown on a screen.
Where I do see value is in interactions with non-technical people. Having an actual object printed in 3D will give them the chance to "touch", "feel", and "manipulate" the object to gain a better understanding of what it is and how it might functions.
What objects or type of objects would you 3D print?
Would you see yourself using this with some frequency in the future? - or eventually setting it aside in the back corner of the office?
My guess is that most people would buy this, print out a few miscellaneous items, but eventually the printer would find its way to the back corner of the office and be used only sporadically. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what I would even print yet.
The $499 3_D printer is interesting, but then I read the limitations, which includes using ABS material and resolution of about 1mm, or .1mm? Perhaps it could also make parts of some material that would serve as patterns for making ceramic molds, so that I could cast steel parts.
About the information age thing: it is certainly true that we have lots of access to information, but that information is not all correct, and some of it that is correct is still slanted. And much of what is called information is actually justr data.
Data is primarily useful when it can be condensed into information, and the main value of information is that it can be manipulated and processed to generate knowledge. Knowledge can potentially be useful in many areas, but the greatest value of knowledge is when it can be studied and used to provide insite and understanding. At that point the real value has been obtained.
The sad reality that I see today is that a whole lot of folks never get much beyond having a large collection of data, and they have neither insight nor understanding. The best that they can do is stand around and recite words that somehow relate to the topic.
These last two poaragraphs are original to me, and so if you use them or publish them please be sure to credit them to me. Thanks.
Beth, great article. I also have been following "additative manufacturing" for some time with my very first indoctrination being from Machine Design, years ago, on SLA (stereolithography).This is a fascinating technology and one that has saved my company "tons" of money and time with the production of samples.In our case, we used full-scale or half-scale models for proof of concept and limited testing.Form, fit and function fit in there also as being one reason to have models in which we can "kick the tires".Other companies actually use the products for limited production, if the proper materials can be obtained.The capabilities improve each year but I certainly did not know the cost is as low as your article states.Right now, we outsource our needs but with prices being this low, we can certainly afford to "take the plunge".Again, many thanks.
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