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3D printer price drops could lure home users

Agam Shah | April 7, 2014
3D printer prices are dropping into a range that could appeal to home users.

3D printer prices are dropping into a range that could appeal to home users.

A handful of 3D printers priced at less than US$500 were shown at the Inside 3D Printing trade show this week in New York. They can print small objects in limited colors, but prices of more advanced home 3D printers are dropping as well, opening up the market to a wider audience.

3D printing involves taking a filament like plastic and discharging it through a nozzle on a substrate to make parts, and has been used to make a range of items, including smartphone cases, toys, automotive and aeronautic parts, and even a space probe. 3D printing allows for faster and less expensive production of parts for such items, and designing and prototyping the parts becomes easier, said 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental during a keynote at the conference this week.

"We are observing companies are under increased pressure to deliver products faster," Reichental said. "For the price of one unit, I can make millions of units [with a 3D printer]."

Prices of 3D printers are falling at a fast clip, helped by technological advancements, the expiration of certain patents and increasing competition, said Tim Shepherd, senior analyst at Canalys Research.

"It is possible today to get low-end, relatively basic printers for several hundred dollars, where in the past they started in the thousands-of-dollars range," Shepherd said.

Canalys expects the 3D printer market to grow rapidly in the coming years, with sales of printers, materials and services reaching $3.8 billion this year, compared to $2.5 billion last year, and hitting $16.2 billion by 2018.

Growth will be fueled when companies such as Hewlett-Packard enter the 3D printing market, Canalys said. MakerBot and 3D Systems are the most widely recognized 3D printing companies today.

XYZSystems is making a play for the home with the $499 da Vinci 1.0, which was shown at the show. It has a single nozzle, meaning that it produces single-color items. The printer can make items measuring 200 x 200 x 200 millimeters.

The printer is for home users, hobbyists, students involved in science projects and teachers "who want to decorate their classrooms," said Phair Tsai, a marketing specialist at XYZSystems.

XYZSystems is part of Taiwan-based The Kinpo Group, which has made two-dimensional industrial printers for two decades. XYZSystems has been dropping prices on its more advanced 3D printers, but an introductory model was needed to penetrate the home market, Tsai said.

"Our goal is to lower the entry barrier for regular users, to instigate a conversation, to get users to start using 3D printing," Tsai said.

Solidoodle was another $499 printer shown at the event. It has a single nozzle and can print plastic items that are up to 152.4 x 152.4 x 152.4 millimeters in dimension. The product is already shipping.


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