Forget about desktop publishing. With the rise of 3-D printing technology, the age of desktop manufacturing is nearly upon us. And this affordable 3-D printer is the first big game changer.
3-D printing works just like your inkjet printer does, except that instead of printing a 2-dimensional image with ink on paper, you’re actually printing a 3-dimensional object in space, by stacking or “printing” one successive layer of material on top of another.
So just “what” exactly can be 3-D printed? Well that depends on your hardware, the materials you use for printing and the limits of your imagination—but so far, the list includes everything from shower curtain rings and bespoke prosthetic limbs to chocolate candy and even houses...! There’s even this guy, who made a solar-powered printer in the desert that just uses sand and sunlight as its production materials. Essentially, any object that can be designed or digitally scanned into a CAD (architectural) program can be 3-D printed.
Up until now, the problem with 3-D printing has been one of cost and scale (and hence access), with printers costing in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s all changed thanks to MakerBot Industries’ “Thing-O-Matic,” also referred to as simply “The MakerBot.”
The MakerBot is the first 3-D printer that is affordable and compact enough to sit on your desk, next to your Epson printer. The cheaper version ships as a kit, which you assemble yourself. (It retails for $1,300.)
With the MakerBot, your primary material for printing is ABS plastic (the same durable plastic that Legos are made out of.) You can buy different color plastics to print with, as well as additional components if you want to customize your MakerBot to print with other materials like, say, cake frosting.
In addition to the ability to print your own designs, you also have access to the designs of other users. MakerBot Industries hosts its own online community called “The Thingiverse,” which serves as a kind of ever-expanding library of existing design objects. The Thingiverse was created as a place for MakerBot owners to share ideas online and improve upon designs in an open-source and collaborative way.
The MakerBot is just the beginning of a much bigger revolution in personal manufacturing. You may be printing in plastic today, but there is already speculation that 3-D printers will be “printing” on the molecular level within the coming decade or so. Perhaps with the MakerBot 5.0 we’ll be fabricating dinner, skintight jumpsuits and replacement parts for our hover boards all within one sitting.
In the meantime, the best news about MakerBot 1.0 is not just that it’s an enviable invention... but that it can produce an innumerable amount of other enviable designs, some of which will hopefully be your own.