A 3D Printer in Every Home?

Category: Printing

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.

Cheap 3D printers

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...

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Most recent comments on "A 3D Printer in Every Home?"

Posted by:

24 Jan 2014

Thanks Bob for a breakdown of information that would have taken me ages to find on google.

My interest in these gizmos is specific in finding a way to produce a custom brace for my wife's wrist - she had a bone replaced with a prosthetic which has since broken down.... USA insurance health economics..... the NHS would have done just as bad a job.

Economics form a great factor and resolution is secondary - probably the opposite to everybody else.

Thanks again and I'll check out the sites.


Posted by:

24 Jan 2014

The direct-drive Aluminum Extruder from Printbot you mention is not a printer, but an extruder made from aluminum. It is an upgrade to some 3d printer's default extruder. It extrudes melted plastic. It cannot create metal parts.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Acck! My bad. Fixed that, thanks.

Posted by:

24 Jan 2014

Will they work on Mars? But seriously, all of this insight in one place, is priceless! Best regards, john.

Posted by:

24 Jan 2014

Now if the 3D printers are pre-programmed to print more 3D pre-programmed printers....

EDITOR'S NOTE: Actually... I heard about a guy who used his 3d printer to print a better extruder for his 3d printer. And then used that to print an even better extruder ...

Posted by:

24 Jan 2014

I've played with a few, from $30k+ commercial stuff to the home-built rep-rap stuff. The low-end units are catching up in a big way. I ordered a QUBD 2-up via kickstarter (late March delivery). They now have a heated bed option, and they are doing it differently than the industry 'standard' - their theory is sound on it being better, but we'll see if it is.

RepRap is an open-source project to bring 3D printing to everyone, started at a time when $15k was the bottom end entry price. Almost all of the current sub-$10k machines are based (surprisingly closely in most cases) on one of the platforms that was crowd-developed on the reprap.org community wiki site. Part of the mission statement was the ability for a printer to make as much of it's own parts as possible. The parts you can't print can, be as inexpensive as a $15 knockoff Arduino board, a $40 extrusion head, relays, motors, and slide rails all salvaged from an old inkjet printer, and the entire rest of the printer _can_ be built on an identical printer.

No printer can print it's own extrusion head. That is where the material is melted, so it has to be made out of something with a substantially higher melting point than the material your printer prints. The slide bushings and gears and such can be done in incrementally higher quality, resulting in higher resolution with each re-do, to a point.

The other type of 3D printing is called stereolithography. You have a liquid or gel solution, and when you run a laser over it, it hardens into plastic. These have been insanely expensive, but the Peachy Printer (cheapest version is $100) uses that technology, and was done via kickstarter (hasn't started shipping yet, but I ordered one). It can also double as a 3D scanner, and I think (maybe aside from still being pre-production) it should have been on your list. This is essentially the same technological basis as the existing 3D printers that can do metal. I don't even care if the one I ordered works well, or not - I want to support development of the technology that will lead to home printing in metal, and this is it :-)

Posted by:

john young
24 Jan 2014

Hi John,

It's totally amazing and that just how fast technology is climbing..I'm sure that many companies and corporation are scared of these machines that could rob profits from them, plus I'm sure like you said, Congress will want to make laws to keep people down.
Thank you for keeping us informed on all Techo!

Posted by:

David Lagesse
25 Jan 2014

What I see as lacking, is the ability to quickly program a 3D printer to reproduce any object that you might want to copy.
Got a broken part to replace? How do you print a new one that is not broken, if that part is the only one you have to work with?
Laser scanning an object can give outer dimensions, but internal dimensions are not possible, I would think.
Until those problems are solved, 3D printers will be not of much use and will only be "toys" for adult playtime.

Posted by:

David Guillaume
25 Jan 2014

3D Printers - Great article Bob and very informative. Who said that the replicator on the Star Trek ship the Enterprise was just make believe. Todays Sci Fi will always be the window of the future for us all.
David Guillaume

Posted by:

25 Jan 2014

This technology intrigues me, to no end! I can see many "medical" uses, for the 3-D Printers, mostly in the Orthopedic department, but, other departments as well, like Cardiology.

As for the consumer's use ... I am only seeing the 3-D Printer's use, for things that can be used around the house, artwork and other kinds of things. Of course, creative people will be able to design some great new "inventions" with this technology, that will have practical usage.

Dr. Willem J Kolff invented the kidney dialysis machine, as well as a artificial heart. Makes me wonder, if, Dr. Kolff had, had a 3-D Printer what else he may have invented, as well. Yes, for those who know, he also, invented an artificial eye and ear, neither were successful.

Out there, somewhere ... Is another Dr. Kolff ... Who very easily could use the 3-D Printer, for the next medical break through.

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