3D printing has slowly been on the rise for the past few years, but it has yet to have a major mainstream break though. It largely still only appeals to a niche audience of makers, and that's because it's intimidating. Machines require calibration and tinkering when they're first set up, and sometimes it takes days of tweaking before you can get a successful first print. Installing the correct software and adjusting the object files can be difficult, too. Sure, for hobbyists and printing enthusiasts, tweaking is part of the fun, but for beginners it's just too complicated.
The 3D Printing Tech Zone at CES was full of machines that are aiming to solve this problem. Many 3D printer designers arebuilding more straightforward machines for entry-level makers, and we're seeing this trend being implemented in many different ways. If the genre keeps moving in this direction, 2014 could be the year of the 3D printer.
Machines for every level
MakerBot's CEO Bre Pettis said it best during a CES press conference on Monday: "The question is not, are you going to buy [a 3D printer]?,' but which one are you going to get?'" Pettis unveiled a new line of MakerBot Replicators on Monday to appeal to people with different experiences and skill levels. My prediction is that it won't be the high-end $6499 Replicator Z18 that breaks boundaries, but instead the $1375 Replicator Mini.
This entry-level printer, which Pettis dubbed the "point-and-shoot" of the group, was designed with consumers in mind. It's compact and easy to use, and only has one button, showing off MakerBot's new one-touch printing solution. It's already optimized for speed and doesn't require any leveling, so it's pretty much good to go as soon as you open the box. And it has the power of the MakerBot name behind it.
What's really killer about the Replicator Mini is that it has much of the same hardware as its more advanced brothers. It has the same magnetic Smart Extruder that's easy to remove, a camera to record the printing process so you can share footage with your social media accounts, and wireless connectivity that notifies your mobile device when a print is finished or if you're low on filament.
MakerBot is also trying to solve the problem of not knowing what to print. The company launched MakerBot Entertainment, a new digital store with complex, full models of small toys available for purchase. Assembly requires no additional supports or glue: All you need to do is buy the file and print it. There are six different collections to start, including sets with trucks, animals, and rocket ships. Toys can be purchased individually starting at $1, or as complete sets that start at $10.
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