3D Printers: What’s next?

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Movies have gone 3D, and now so have printers.

While so-called 3D printers have been staple of engineering for years, MakerBot Industries has released a series of printers that bring personal manufacturing home.

The line of 3D printers include three distinct generations of models: the Cupcake, the Thing-o-Matic and the Replicator, the Replicator being the largest and most recently released.

The printers use modeling software that links up with the machine to print pre-made or custom designs.

According to the MakerBot site, possible objects include door knobs, shower rings, toys and much more. Anything the user dream ups in the design software can be printed as a model by the machine.

The material used to make the models is usually spools of ASB plastic, which are also available on the online MakerBot store. Depending on the printer’s configurations, the models can be printed in one or two colors or in multiple different materials.

Most personal 3D printers only have the ability to print objects on a small scale, but the MakerBot website claims that the Replicator’s build site “is roughly the size of a loaf of bread,” allowing for much bigger objects to be printed than before.

According to the MakerBot website, the MakerBot printer also “ships standard with an LCD panel and video-game-style control pad. The LCD screen provides build statistics and monitoring information, and full control of the machine without the use of a computer,” allowing users to print models directly from the machine itself. Otherwise, the printer uses a SD card which allows users to transfer their designs from their computer to the machine.

While there are many pre-made designs for users to use, they can also design new models for objects and upload them to an open source site called Thingverse, where the MakerBot engineers also share their designs.

Anyone interested in purchasing a MakerBot Replicator model will pay around $1,749 on a single machine, with an eight-week lead time necessary for individual assembly. The spools of plastic needed to construct the models cost anywhere from $48 to $55.

While the MakerBot Replicator and its predecessors have nowhere near the design or computing power of a professional engineering 3D printer, they bring personal manufacturing home to the consumer. Anyone with an interest in engineering or model making can now have a way to take their hobby home with them.

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