3D printing has clearly taken off in many diverse industries, from airplane manufacturing to healthcare to automotive, but is there or will there ever be a demand for 3D printers in the consumer market?
As the Micro Kickstarter campaign has proven, there is a demand for a consumer printer. A huge one.
Only 11 minutes after the crowdfunding crusade for “the first truly consumer 3D printer” went live, it reached its $50,000 goal. With nine days left to go, the campaign has reached over $3 million from almost 11,000 backers.
Created by Maryland-based M3D, the Micro 3D printer is one of the most affordable 3D printers to hit the market. Competitor 3D printers targeting consumers, such as MakerBot’s Replicator Mini ($1,375) and the Pirate3D Buccaneer (around $500) are priced much, much higher than the Micro (currently $299 for backers).
But the affordable price isn’t the only attribute attracting consumers; the printer’s aesthetic is also a crowd pleaser. The cubed printer is small enough to fit comfortably on a desk or bookshelf, is lightweight and portable, and comes in a variety of colors.
The plug-and-play feel to the Micro is an improvement over other consumer 3D printers. It comes ready assembled with auto-leveling and auto-calibration built into the printer head so it can print without needing user intervention, and PLA, ABS, or the company’s filament spools fit inside the box to help with portability and keep a sleek, clean look.
Due to its size, users won’t be able to print large items, but could print vases, custom cookie cutters, or toys for their pets.
Simple software: a huge selling point
The Micro stands to overcome a major obstacle that has stood in the way between 3D printers and consumer adoption: difficult and unintuitive software.
A custom companion software “as interactive and enjoyable as a game” could be the answer. The app is designed for touchscreen use, supports drag and drop interactions, and allows you to easily tweak your model before sending it to print. Micro owners will also be able to search for objects to print online and organize their 3D models into a library to access later.
This simplified software could play a huge role in expanding the 3D-printer market beyond hobbyists with the right technical knowhow to the everyday consumer who doesn’t know about CAD design.
Backers can expect their printers to arrive between August 2014 and March 2015, and worldwide distribution will start after that.
Will the Micro finally bring 3D printing to the masses?
At the moment, 3D printers aren’t in high demand. High costs and complexity (due to printer setup and the need for CAD software knowledge) has made the technology something that only appeals to hobbyists.
But interest within the consumer sector is increasing. Strategy Analytics reported the consumer 3D printing market would hit $10 billion by 2024 and then $70 billion by 2030, and that there is the potential for more than 50 percent of households in the United States and Europe to own a 3D printer.
Companies like Staples and Adobe are also helping 3D printing go mainstream. Staples has partnered with 3D Systems, a provider of 3D content-to-print solutions, to offer 3D print solutions, and it also sells consumer printers, while Adobe has introduced 3D printing capabilities to Photoshop CC.
The Micro’s incredibly fast success on Kickstarter is also a good indication that consumers are ready for 3D printers to go mainstream, but only time will tell if this printer will truly be the groundbreaking technology its makers claim it to be.
Until the Micro is in the hands of real users and they write their reviews, there won’t be any way to tell if the product is a hit.
What are your thoughts on the Micro? Do you think this will be the first step in bringing 3D printing to a mass consumer audience?
Photo Credit: M3D