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Home 3D Printing – Are Flying Cars Around the Corner?

Toronto, January 15, 2013.
Evan Hardie, Senior Analyst – IDC Canada

The concept of printing a solid 3D object from the comfort of home may have been a futuristic idea fit for the pages of a 1950’s Popular Mechanics magazine; however it has recently become a reality for early adopters.

Although 3D printing has been used in various forms of research and development over the course of the last two decades, the technology behind it has improved greatly within the last five years and is now available to consumers for home use.

Two companies that are helping to shape the direction of in-home 3D printing are Brooklyn, New York -based MakerBot Industries and Rock Hill, South Carolina's 3D Systems, with kits for do-it-yourself types as well as pre-assembled offerings to make 3D printing plug-and-play. 

Both showcased their products at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month.  3D Systems unveiled their CubeX 3D device, with the ability to print in up to three different colours.  The other key selling feature of this device is its ability to print two different types of plastics (Polylactic Acid and Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) in the same job, at an industry leading print size for a desktop 3D printer.  This puts this new offering in the same class as the MakerBot Replicator 2 and the new Replicator 2X, also announced at CES. The Replicator 2X has a slightly finer print resolution than the CubeX (125 microns) at 100 microns (roughly the thickness of a sheet of paper) and has the ability to print up to two different colours at the same time with the two different plastic types.
The CubeX will sell for US$2,799 for the base, single-colour model, with the two-colour model priced at US$3,599 and the three-colour model priced at US$4,399.  The product is upgradable, so you could start with the single-colour version and upgrade to the other versions with ease.  3D systems have begun taking orders for the CubeX and they plan to start shipping the devices in early February 2013.  3D Systems also announced the second generation of their home desktop Cube printer, to be sold with print pack for US$1,399. 
MarketBot Industries is already actively selling their Replicator 2 product at a base price of US$2,199.  The newly announced Replicator 2X will retail for US$2,799 and is expected to ship later in January 2013. 
As the capabilities of at-home desktop 3D printing evolve, the number of applications is bound to increase, with greater emphasis on output quality and ease of use.  What might stand in the way of this technology becoming ubiquitous are the potential legal ramifications of printing or scanning/mocking-up of copy written objects.  Quick and easy 3D capture techniques that can use Smartphones to scan three dimensional objects for printing, will make it tempting to just overlook intellectual property rights and replicate existing objects in their exact dimensions.  Manufacturers could decide to crack down on the availability of 3D CAD data files that break international copy right laws. This would be particularly relevant with the printing of restricted objects such as weapons. On the other hand, enthusiasts are more likely to turn to online communities, which have already begun to sprout, to share designs and even instructions on how to build your own 3D printer.   
The other obstacle that is presently hindering the appeal of 3D printing is the limited number of consumer applications available. Similar to the new “ultra high definition” 4K televisions, which need content that can make full use of the added resolution to sell, home 3D printers will only survive if users have exciting, functional or useful solid objects to print.  
Stay tuned for a follow-up piece dedicated to 3D printing applications and the future of 3D printing both at the home and for professional use.

Image of Market Bot Industries - Replicator 2x 

3D Systems - CubeX 

Sample 3D Prints - Image From Cubify Flickr Page

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