3-D printing: When will it hit the mainstream? [St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.]
(St. Joseph News-Press (MO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 13--The PlayStation 4, the Xbox One and the iPhone upgrades have been all the rage when discussing the near-future of consumer technology. But those who are peeking a few years down the road can't stop talking about 3-D printers.
It's hard to blame them. Three-D printing technology has the potential to change lives in a very dramatic way, crafting everything from guns, toys and pizza to rocket-engine parts, medical implants and even living tissue.
Consumers are being told that, some day, they'll be able to dream up anything and they'll be able to print it. Of course, that reality hasn't materialized yet, but the technology is developing faster than previously predicted. Some developers already are printing home goods, experimenting with printing food, creating prosthetic body parts and developing next-generation printers that will embed advanced materials like electronics within printed objects.
"People are using it today," said Scott Crump, the chief information officer for 3-D printer company Stratasys, at the Inside 3D Printing conference in San Jose, Calif., earlier this year. "Hobbyists are using it. Makers are using it. The use in the home is probably going to start more."
What's interesting about the development of 3-D printers is what's holding these products back. Throughout history, the most innovative tech products (personal computers, mobile phones, HDTVs, Blu-ray players, etc.) have taken years to catch on simply because the price tags have been too high for most folks. Many would argue that's not the case with 3-D printers working with plastic materials. Just ask Roger Chang, the CEO for Pirate3D, a company that will put its Buccaneer 3D printer on the market for less than $500. Right now, the Peachy Printer campaign is creating a 3-D printing device that's promising to retail for less than $100.
Mr. Chang says cost isn't the issue. It's the interface.
"It's our opinion that the technology is ready. The only thing that's holding people back from having it is the user experience," Mr. Chang says. "From the design to the software interface, it's not very user-friendly. It doesn't make you happy to use it. That's what's stopping 3-D printers from being adopted right now."
Pirate3D is part of a growing group of 3-D printer companies that are developing 3-D printers with the not-so-tech-savvy in mind. Mr. Chang admits that the Buccaneer printer's early adopters largely will be people who are curious and want to tinker with the technology, but he says Pirate3D's eventual goal is to reach as many people as possible.
MakerBot knows just as much. The Brooklyn-based company would be the first to admit that there's no iPhone or Windows of the 3-D printing world yet -- that's why MakerBot's $2,800 Replicator 2X comes with a playful warning that reads: "Patience, know-how and a sense of adventure required!" But with the company's $2,200 Relicator 2 and the $1,400 Digitizer, they feel they've made huge strides in user-friendliness.
"Our MakerBot Replicator 2 is totally one of the easiest to use on the market today," MakerBot spokesperson Jenifer Howard says. "They do require some minimal maintenance (and) leveling of the build plate. But it's very similar to what a fax machine used to require. It's not too huge of an obstacle."
While tasks like leveling the print bed and fine-tuning print settings can grow frustrating for the most experienced people, retailers are banking on the fact that those issues will be resolved in the next year or two.
After announcing its intention to stock 3-D printers online in August, Forbes reported last week that Office Depot launched a monthlong pilot program at its Denver store to provide customers with the "hands-on" experience of 3-D printing. As part of the program, employees at the store will demonstrate 3-D printing uses to customers. They will print sample objects designed by professional artists on 3D Systems' Cube printers.
"I am a great believer that seeing is believing," George Hill, senior vice president of copy and print solutions at Office Depot, told Forbes.
Another major office supply chain, Staples, has launched its own 3-D printing service for customers in Europe. The service is a partnership with Irish 3D printing startup, Mcor Technologies, and it lets customers print 3-D objects based on designs provided in online storefronts. The objects are printed using paper and chemically treated to form the final product.
Clearly, both retailers want to claim their piece of territory in the growing market for 3-D printers, while also laying a foundation for customers to become more comfortable with the technology.
Regardless, these are notable indications that 3-D printers -- even in their most primitive forms -- will be making their way into homes sooner rather than later.
Shea Conner can be reached
Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.
(c)2013 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)
Visit the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.) at www.newspressnow.com/index.html
Distributed by MCT Information Services
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]