Shopping for a 3D printer

Interested in 3D printing and the possible new revenue streams it can generate? So is Martha Stewart. Martha, who seems to be a be of a gadget junkie, was a judge at Hardware Battlefield, at CES and as she explained in a Techcrunch interview, she’s always curious about innovation and loves learning about how new technology can apply to the lives of everyday people. But more importantly, she’s interested in finding a 3D printer to help prototype new products.
This years International CES consumer electronics show in Vegas was a great place for Martha to go exploring 3D printers. The show floor is as large as 37 football fields and although the 3D Printing Techzone was only a small part of this show, I counted 28 exhibitors featuring some kind of 3D hardware or software.

3D printing has become one of the fastest growing printing processes in the 21st century, which can virtually make an object appear out of thin air by printing 3DPrintsuccessive layers of material to create a three dimensional product. Most 3D printers are used for building prototypes used in the dental, medical, aerospace, engineering and automotive industries, but with the advancement of 3D technology, these printers are now moving towards smaller and more affordable units in line with price points for today’s consumer. With industry giants like Adobe and Microsoft rushing to add integrated 3DP drivers to their operating system, you know that consumer acceptance can’t be far behind.

Martha Stewart showed interest in both FormLabs and MakerBot 3D printers among a few other companies. Here’s a snapshot of a few of the companies that were exhibiting at CES.

Makerbot recently released three new 3D printers, the Replicator Desktop 3D Printer ($2,899), the Replicator Mini Compact 3D Printer ($1,375), and the Replicator Z18 3D Printer ($6,499). The Replicator Desktop 3D Printer won the Engadget “Best Maker-Friendly Technology” award at CES 2014. While I’ve been following and writing about 3D printers for quite some time, it’s just lately that these printers have turned their eye from an industrial to a consumer focus. With MakerBot’s third Replicator, it’s clear that things have changed. It has a near fully-automated setup, easily replaceable cartridges and a sleek design. This marks the beginning of truly consumer-friendly 3D printing.

3D Sugar printer by 3D Systems
The Chefjet 3D printer is one of the most exciting smart kitchen products at CES 2014, and it’s in the leading range of a number of 3D food printers hitting the market. There are two models which should be available by the end of the year. The smaller one, Chefjet, is limited to monochrome creations ($5,000), but the larger Chefjet Pro ($10,000) can create multi-coloured objects. Both models can print using chocolate, or sugar infused with vanilla, mint, sour apple, cherry and watermelon flavors. The larger one has the advantage of being able to create “photographic-quality” pictures by mixing together different ingredients that can then be wrapped around cakes and other surfaces. The designs are built using a layer-by-layer printing process, similar to other 3D printers.

Affordable 3D Printing Systems
The da Vinci 3D printer from XYZprinting Inc. will only cost $499. The $499 price point for the da Vinci makes it the cheapest “plug and play” 3D printer out there. According to a statement released by XYZprinting Inc., “The da Vinci is a plug-n-play 3D printer with a large build size designed specifically for households and small businesses. With no assembly required, a smart design, unique safety features and easy-to-use cloud system, the da Vinci has redesigned the 3D printing experience making it more user-friendly across all aspects of the process than ever before.” The da Vinci 3D printer allows users to access a cloud database for free 3D models and 12 different colour filaments to choose from. XYZprinting Inc. says da Vinci users can create cups, bowls and smartphone cases with the 3D printer. Simon Shen, the chairman of XYZprinting, Inc., addressed the pricing issue as the main hurdle in making 3D printers a mainstream option for the consumer. Shen said: “With da Vinci we are moving 3D printing to the mainstream market by satisfying a need in the consumer and SMB segment for a 3D printer that delivers on affordability and usability.”

Martha’s Favorite
There were several industrial professional printers with hefty price tags on the floor of CES 2014, but Martha took a keen interest in the MakerBot Z18 industrial printer, which prints larger objects — up to 12 by 12 by 18 inches tall. “This is industrial-strength 3D printing,” explained Makerbot Chief Executive Bre Pettis. Feature-wise, you’ve got the same colour display and USB/Ethernet/WiFi connectivity, built-in camera and Smart Extruder as the new third-generation Replicator. Unlike the other Replicators, this one is enclosed, with a heater built in to assure more stable builds. Heating up that large of a space means it takes a little bit longer to start laying down filament, but the quality should be worth the wait. The Z18 starts shipping in the spring for $6,499.