Are there easy to use, affordable 3D printers yet for your home? Of course anyone who has read tech news or looked at some of my blog posts knows that it’s only a matter of time until 3D printing becomes affordable and available locally to the masses. Surely in the near future it will revolutionize the production and manufacturing industries vastly. A new start up company is trying to bring the cheapest printer to market yet which is currently costing around $347.
The printer comes fully assembled and is ready to use immediately it seems, however, this is understandably one of the more limited printers as a result of the low cost and mass appeal. It has a very small print size which is the major downside, and they may want to force you to use print cartridges which might be more costly rather than raw spools of material. Here is a video regarding the new printer project..
Home 3D printers are still mostly owned by enthusiasts currently, a unique group of tech geeks that are still a little bit elitist about the subject. Most of the time it is people who know how to do their own 3D modeling and maybe know a thing or two about programming/physical computing even. It takes a lot of effort and testing to get one such as the makerbot up and running well, which most people won’t have the patience for despite its amazing uses. So currently there is a viable market race, to produce the printer that is easy enough the general public will start to invest in the technology. If the public doesn’t take interest and start investing, the development progress of these home based systems will be much slower.
In the last few years, a group of companies have been trying to tap into the regular consumers, who still mostly don’t understand the technology. Eventually it will become as easy as using a microwave or a washing machine, and this will make it even more popular. Cheap, simplified printers such as the buccaneer are the right step in that direction. Another valid question is, will 3D printing be as exciting, inspiring, or useful for the average person as it is for the tech geeks?
One of the biggest issues is the technical barrier on creating your own 3D models, in particular if they are something mechanical or complex. Many companies have developed easy 3D object creators, which let you model a cup, a vase, or even an iphone case. Yet these easy tools are very severely limited and typically offer very little in the ability to make something completely unique or precise. They also typically are designed around the creation of a single type of object, and cannot deal with different kinds of objects. So ultimately, I think the success of 3D printers also is greatly affected by the simplification of 3D modeling tasks in the realm of object creation.
A whole bunch of easy to use programs will need to be developed, allowing for a huge variety of useful objects to be parametrically created, which is not an easy task at all. If it was easy, tools of this sort would have already been created long ago, making life much easier for all 3D artists working in video games/film/multimedia. After decades, there are still very few objects which can quickly be created parametrically besides the basic primitive shapes of a cube/sphere/cone, etc. Typically, 3D artists start with a primitive shape and ‘sculpt’ it into more complex objects with a variety of seemingly abstract technical tools. Unfortunately it is quite a laborious, tedious, and time consuming process.
In fact, when you consider the ridiculous amount of variations objects can have, and the ridiculous number of objects possible, it seems unlikely that anyone will develop a software to allow you to easily create any 3D object you want any time soon. It is certainly possible, and 3D printing is a big reason someone should start working on such tools. Yet it seems that it will be quite a while until the software can even get to that point since it will take time to develop, so there will be a long time where traditional skills with 3D modeling will be necessary and viable.
Many companies are hoping the 3D community will contribute their unique objects, building a public library of free objects people can print. Yet any 3D artist who has been around for a while will see contributing to this is not a great thing on many levels. For example, if you write a book you’re initially going to try and sell it rather than give it away for free, at least until you have made enough of a fortune of your own that giving away stuff is no longer a matter of surviving.
Not everyone is in that position of having the ability to give away work for free. Not only do you get nothing tangible for your hard work and give up the copyrights to your creations, but it also lowers respect for the 3D community over time as people will begin to see this as effortless work.
I’m sure the library of free to use models will continue to grow to some degree, but I don’t imagine skilled 3D modelers will want to give away all of their creations for free either. If everything is given away for free, eventually it will reach a point where there will be no incentive for the 3D modelers to create anything. It takes a lot of investment, effort, and time to develop skills with 3D programs. You can’t pay bills and eat by giving away all your work, even if it does seem a noble thing to do, so I don’t think a free library is going to offer enough incentive for the majority of 3D tech talented folks.
Ultimately, it seems understandable to predict that there will be ( or already is ) another market popping up soon for selling print-ready 3D models. There are already services where 3D artists can upload their models for other artists to use in their projects for film/video games/multimedia, so this seems like the most likely path.