A 3D Printer in Every Home?
There's a new manufacturing revolution happening. 3D printers are empowering the masses to make their own stuff. With some entry-level printers selling for less than $500, there's never been a better time to try your hand at 3D printing. Read on to learn more about these little wonders...
3D Printers Under $500? Yes!
I love the concept of 3D printers, because they have the potential change the world in the same manner as the printing press, the personal computer, and the Internet have done. The ability to manufacture relatively complex items in your home will cause changes in society and industry that we can't even imagine at this time.
See my earlier article Make Your Own Stuff With 3D Printing for some background if you're not familiar with what these machines can do.
Below are several relatively inexpensive 3D printers that you can explore. Check out what they can do, and be sure to read my comments at the end of this article about the future of 3D printers, too.
At the low end of the price scale, there are the Printrbot Simple ($259 kit or $449 assembled) and the Printrbot Jr v2 ($599 kit or $699 assembled). The Simple can produce objects up to 3.5 inches in size, with a resolution of 0.1mm. The Printrbot Jr can print items up to 4.5 x 5.5 by 4 inches. Both of these machines lack a heated build platform, and use non-toxic PLA plastic, which is safer for kids because of the lower melting temperature. The Printbot PLUS ($999 assembled) has more advanced capabilities.
The new kid on the 3D printing block is the QU-BD OneUP. At just $199, it's billed as the "World's Least Expensive 3D Printer" but promises output quality rivalling the much more expensive Makerbot machines. The no-frills kit includes everything you need to begin 3D printing, but does require assembly. QU-BD makes parts for many other 3D printer companies, and offers other more advanced models as well. The initial batch of OneUP machines was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and sold out quickly. You can pre-order one now, but it won't ship until April 2014.
The $599 Portabee Go is the world’s first portable 3D printer. Its frame of rods and clamps looks like a miniature painter’s scaffold but disassembles quickly, and the whole 3 kg device goes into an included carrying case. Its maximum build-size (largest object it can print) is 12 x 12 x 12 cm. Its nozzle size (resolution) is 0.5 mm. A heated build platform (HBP) keeps lower layers warm as molten layers are added, helping the layers adhere to each other and reducing warping caused by uneven cooling of stuck—together layers. Software drivers and programs for designing or downloading open source designs are available.
The $699 Rapidbot 3.0 resembles an industrial sewing machine, complete with a bobbin full of ABS or PLA plastic filament feeding “thread” into the heated nozzle mechanism. Assembly time is estimate at 6-8 hours, or you buy a fully assembled unit for an extra $130. Its build-size is 22 x 22 x 16.5 cm. The nozzle diameter is 0.4 mm and it can lay down layers as thin as 0.2 mm. The unit weighs 12 kg.
The $840 Metalbot was designed by mechanical engineers at Taiwan’s Intelligent Machines, Inc. Its resolution is higher than most inexpensive printers, minimizing the need to sand and polish finished objects. Its build size is 19x19x16 cm. Its layer thickness is only 0.25 mm.
The $990 eVOLUTION has a clear acrylic frame. Its layer thickness is only 0.1 mm and its build size is a generous 20 x 20 x 20 cm.
And a bit over the $1000 price point is the Cube 2. Priced at $1399, the Cube is hailed by reviewers as one of the easiest and most reliable 3D printers. The Cube can print objects to 5.5" x 5.5" x 5.5" in size, and connects wirelessly to your PC or Mac computer. To help you get started right away, try one of the 25 free 3D design files included with the Cube.
The “ink” used by these printers is ABS or PLA plastic filament, which comes in thicknesses ranging from 1.75 to 3.0 mm. The price of filament ranges from $30 to $68 per kg.
A sub-$1000 3D printer is not a business-quality machine. It’s a platform for learning about 3D printing’s capabilities and the skills needed to exploit this technology. But if you're serious about producing items for sale, I'd recommend saving your money for a higher-priced but more capable machine, such as the Makerbot Replicator product line.
The Future of 3D Printing
Will prices for 3D printers rise or fall? Some pundits believe that as in other industries, rapidly improving technology and rising demand will create an economy of scale, resulting in lower prices. This has certainly happened in the personal computer marketplace. Since 1990, the cost of hard drive storage has dropped from $10,000 per gigabyte, to $10 per gigabyte in 2000, to under TEN CENTS per gigabyte today!
I tend to agree, and I believe that 3D printing technology will change the world in ways we can't yet imagine. I can see the day when we'll routinely "print" our own clothing and household objects. People are using the technology now to make prosthetic limbs, and I've read about new approaches to construction that would use 3D printers to build complete houses in under a day.
But of course, the government could mess up everything. Developments in 3D-printed handguns have legislators around the world hopping and fuming about the need for new laws to restrict what people can do with 3D printers.
Have you used a 3D printer? Do you think the technology is awesome, terrifying, or both? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 24 Jan 2014
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