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.
@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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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