The name for the latest 3D printer from Makerbot is great: The Replicator; many marketers say a good product should do what it says on the tin, unfortunately though MakertBot’s Replicator doesn’t quite do that, at least not unless you also have a 3D scanner at home.
Therein lies the biggest problem with 3D printing becoming popular in homes: how do you actually get a file ready to print? Considering where 3D printing has come from this isn’t a massive problem; the previous barrier was of course cost but now home 3D printers are affordable for most families with an above average income and more importantly perhaps for many small and start up businesses.
3D handheld scanners are available separately of course though they themselves need to come down in price: wouldn’t it be great though if the replicator actually could scan and recreate an object all within the one unit? Definitely one for the future.
What Makerbot have provided customers though is ‘Thingiverse’ an online community with 15,000+ 3D plans that are ready to print; this is just one open source repository of 3D CAD designs online now though with Google’s 3D Warehouse being one of the largest.
Of course you are going to be limited even with these 3D models online, many are made by designers working in rapid prototyping services and are for unique and obscure parts for use in engineering and product design rather than finished models that you may want to use at home.
To really get the most out of the Makerbot or another similar 3D printer you are going to have to learn how to use 3D CAD software such as AutoCAD or Google’s Sketchup: this takes time to learn, though is incredibly satisfying when you print out something you have designed from scratch. The question for some people may be whether it would be cheaper and easier just to buy things that they could print or whether they should pay someone else to deign and print something unique.
For others though it is the skills themselves that have value, not least in a family where teenage children or even younger children can learn valuable 3D design and Rapid Prototyping services skills that will become increasingly in demand as 3D printing and therefore 3D design spreads to more businesses and is used increasingly for Rapid Prototyping Services.
In business it may make sense to not only invest in a Makerbot Replicator at about $2000, or another entry level 3D printer such as the Cube by 3D systems at $1300, but also invest in taking on an experienced 3D CAD designer, if you don’t already have someone with the necessary skills in house.
In business the people who get really rich are the ones with intellectual property, with 3D CAD software and a 3D printer you have everything needed to design new products and designs. 3D printers are ideal for in-house rapid prototyping services as they can create parts in minutes based on a 3D design: the design can then be tested with an accurate model, this includes looking at the structure, the construction, especially when several parts fit together, and using rapid prototyping services to create prototypes to test market or present to a consumer panel for market research.