You’ll Be Able to Buy a 3D Printer at Staples by the End of June

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Though industrial firms have used additive technologies in rapid prototyping for years, the tech is still fresh and growing in the consumer segment. The latest sign of the 3D printer home invasion? Retail office supply chain, Staples, says they’ll sell the 3D Systems Cube 3D Printer online and in retail stores by the end of June.

The $1,300 Cube connects to your home PC over Wi-Fi, allowing it to access and print 3D digital templates in plastic. The printer can print shapes that fit inside a cube 5.5″ to a side. Printing cartridges come in 16 colors which, along with other accessories, may also be purchased at Staples.

To the extent additive technologies have expanded beyond industrial uses, it’s been in the maker/DIY crowd. Currently, 3D printers are primarily available for purchase in specialty retail locations like Makerbot’s New York store or online. Wider availability of the Cube at retail stores like Staples may similarly widen the captive audience—but then again, it may not.

To date, printers like the Cube print small, monochromatic plastic objects from a template. You can also make custom items. However, although 3D modeling is getting easier, users still have to master the software before modeling and printing any design they can imagine. Mastery takes time and motivation.

That may make $1,300 too steep for a mainstream audience, even if the printers are available at mainstream outlets. Beyond novelty items, home 3D printers aren’t essential for average users yet.

Wohlers 2013 annual report on 3D printing notes that after growing gangbusters from 2008-2011 (346% annually), the low-cost personal 3D printer market slammed on the brakes (relatively speaking) in 2012, growing only 46%. Wohlers says, “Most of these machines are being sold to hobbyists, do-it-yourselfers, engineering students, and secondary and postsecondary educational institutions.”

SH 124_#2It’s a relatively limited market segment, and perhaps one that’s become somewhat saturated. Moving towards a more mainstream market may require an even lower price point and higher functionality and ease of use.

Professional industrial grade 3D printers are a different story. Instead of primarily using additive technologies to print prototypes, firms are progressively using them to print final parts.

28.3% of today’s $2.2 billion market goes to finished parts as compared to just 3.9% back in 2003. Industries benefitting from 3D printing’s complex, tailored output include medicine (eg., surgical implants) and aerospace (eg., fuel injectors).

Autodesk president and CEO, Carl Bass, recently weighed in on the hype and hope of 3D printing in Wired. Despite being around for years, he says 3D printing is still an immature technology.

Instead of coming to dominate manufacturing, Bass thinks 3D printing will  complement existing technologies. Focusing solely on 3D printing is to ignore the broader “accelerating software-controlled manufacturing trend which is making not just 3D printers—but laser cutters, mills, lathes, routers, and industrial robots—increasingly powerful, affordable, and approachable.”

Including these other technologies, Bass thinks mass production runs may soon go the way of the dodo. 3D printing, specifically, will evolve from rapid prototyping to limited production. Key to this transition will be software like Autodesk’s 123D Catch (or the like). “Just as rip-mix-burn became the anthem for digital music, we are starting to do the same thing for the physical world with capture-modify-print (or download-modify-print) using only the cameras on our cellphones to inform computer vision algorithms.”

Image Credit: 3D Systems

Discussion — 9 Responses

  • Ross Stapleton-Gray June 7, 2013 on 4:43 pm

    If that photo is accurate, it looks like the size that can be manufactured is more like a 5.5″ cube, not 5.5 cubic inches, yes?

    • Jason Dorrier Ross Stapleton-Gray June 7, 2013 on 5:02 pm

      Yes, good point! I reworded that part. Thanks for the correction.

  • freakqnc June 7, 2013 on 9:20 pm

    With the cost of a Cube one could get 3 http://pirate3d.com/ and be left with extra for more printing wire ;)

    • Eximious94 freakqnc June 10, 2013 on 2:35 pm

      I was going to buy one, but then I read “Estimated delivery: Feb 2014″

  • Anarkik3D June 9, 2013 on 10:20 am

    As you say in the article ‘ users still have to master the software before modeling and printing any design they can imagine. Mastery takes time and motivation.’ Most software developers are catering for a public who will download template designs and 3D print or ‘customise’ design tempates with some modifications and 3D print. We have been developing 3D modelling software that makes it easy to design and be creative without a huge learning curve. We use a 3D haptic device and have designed the low cost bundle for professional designer makers and applied artists who are ‘non-CAD users but desperately want to work digitally and in 3D to engage with 3D digital technologies. My company’s product, and other more modelling type products seems to be off the radar of writers about 3D printing and the software being used for digitaldesigning. This is a pity as the mainly CAD type packages mentioned, such as Tinkercad and Autodesk.s 123D Design, Catch, etc, disenfranchises whole groups on the arts side. Be good to have wider perspective as products like ours, coupled with even lower price points for home 3D printers with higher functionality and ease of use, will help the move towards and into a more mainstream market.

  • Mark Penrice June 10, 2013 on 5:13 am

    The first truly viable inkjet printers, and particularly the first SoHo sized lasers, were up around the $1000 mark if not a little more … if you have a need that only an ink/toner (rather than pin-and-ribbon or daisywheel) printer – or a 3D one – can fill, that’s around the level where it starts to become a serious proposition.

    It may yet be a while before the price is down into double digits instead, but it’s certainly on its way.

  • asimpleenigma June 10, 2013 on 7:35 pm

    And so by the end of the decade, everyone’s going to have these. except better.

  • Akmal Fikri June 20, 2013 on 3:37 pm

    Wow! a 3d printer ? hmmm…. i will print an super heroes action figure and anime action figure.

  • Robotics July 5, 2013 on 11:55 pm

    Cube is one of the best 3D printer that can be bought from the market. the printer is in competition with many more printers with high accuracy and a high speed in printing
    comprehensive guide with 3d printers could be found here http://www.intorobotics.com/3d-printers-for-sale-custom-robots/ and here http://www.3ders.org/pricecompare/3dprinters/