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.
@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.
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.
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.
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.
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