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PRINTER IS JAMMED. OPEN DOOR, CLEAR FOOD, THEN PRESS OK.
January 30, 2013 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Looking to print your own house, jewelry or dessert? Then check out Engadget's Consumer Guide to 3D printers.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (81 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
The timing of this post could not possibly be better.
posted by ardgedee at 9:27 AM on January 30, 2013


For me, anyway.
posted by ardgedee at 9:27 AM on January 30, 2013


This cries out for a chart. Can someone arrange these in some kind of order?
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:29 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is some exciting stuff. It's like the early '80s, when dot matrix printers became super cheap. Adjusted for inflation, a lot of these 3D printers are cheaper.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:34 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I really hope the price of these comes down a smidge in the next couple years (especially the cost of the "Ink." I think it would be so incredibly badass to have one of these in the garage for when my kid turns like 8 or 9.

"Your broke your toy? Lets go print out a replacement part...You want it to have wings this time? Okay, lets draw that out..."

I have wanted one of these since I was old enough to THINK.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:35 AM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


> Adjusted for inflation, a lot of these 3D printers are cheaper.

That's in no small part because a lot of these 3D printers are things you build yourself. Unlike dot matrix printers, which arrived preassembled, aside from the paper trays.
posted by ardgedee at 9:36 AM on January 30, 2013


$1000 to $3000? Didn't they learn anything from HP? You sell your printer for $50, then you create an enormous rent-seeking market with cartridges.
posted by crapmatic at 9:41 AM on January 30, 2013


I want one just to print my own M.U.S.C.L.E.
posted by Dr-Baa at 9:42 AM on January 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


The best one: Formlabs, for pretty much every reason except price.

The worst one: ROBO 3D, for failing to disguise the horrifying fact that this is exactly how the robots are going to take over.

Honorable mention: SeeMeCNC, for apparently only being able to make novelty dildos and buttplugs.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:43 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


You sell your printer for $50, then you create an enormous rent-seeking market with cartridges.

They use plastic, which can be created by melting recycled plastic bottles.
posted by stbalbach at 9:43 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like the names. PrntrBot, MakrPrintr, MakrBot, lulzbot. Fabricate some Es why don't you.

I wouldn't dare buy one though. It would pretty much mean my lazy ass would be fabricating $50 plastic forks to eat my Stoufferss turkey frozen dinners without having to wash a fork.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:44 AM on January 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


You sell your printer for $50, then you create an enormous rent-seeking market with cartridges.

Unfortunately, with these little buddies as it stands, the epoxy cartridges aren't really cheap as it stands.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:45 AM on January 30, 2013


especially the cost of the "Ink."

There was a post recently on The Site Which Will Not Be Named about a neat little project that produces 3D printer filament from plastic bottles and other waste.

Apparently though, plastic wears out as it goes through the recycling process, and you have to keep making up for this by adding new "virgin" resin each time, to the tune of 40-60%. But bulk resin is still a lot cheaper than 3D printer filament. Just not as environmentally neutral.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:45 AM on January 30, 2013


This technology, at such a low cost (and getting cheaper), is beyond exciting, it's groundbreaking. Everything from the arts to home repair to god knows what else is going to impacted.

The recent animated film Parnorman used 3D printing to created thousands of facial expressions for its characters. The Bond film, Skyfall, printed a replica of the classic Aston Martin to be blown up.

Hell, it could render certain AskMe advice totally obsolete. Or at least revolutionize the cremation business. No longer will the urn contain your departed loved one, it'll be them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:01 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I'm the only geek on the planet who is kind of meh about 3D printers. For $2000 you can barely do anything (but we hope it'll really take off in the future) vs for the same amount getting a lathe and a mill, plus a bunch of ancillary tools and making actual stuff that really works. Or outfitting a woodworking shop and the same. Or a sewing room.

And none of it will be made of plastic.
posted by DU at 10:07 AM on January 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oh and the other problem is that every time we switch how we engineer things (wood to metal to plastic to software to chemisty to biology to nano, etc), for some reason we idiot humans completely forget everything we ever learned and have to reinvent a mature body of knowledge on how to get anything done right.
posted by DU at 10:13 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sweet.

One of my first real job interviews was with a company called 3D Systems, who were one of the first (if not THE first) to sell what they called a stereo-lithography machine. Their typical customer was someone like GM or Boeing who would use it for rapid prototyping.

This thing cost $100,000+ and worked with a tank of some sort of liquid photo-polymer. A laser would draw the item layer by layer, with a platform lowering to hold the previous layer. The liquid hardened under ultra-violet light, or maybe infrared, which was where the laser came in. My job would have been to travel around the country fixing the machines when they broke. The first thing the guy said to me when I sat down for the interview was "You'll be working with lasers powerful enough to burn a hole in your hand. You'll have goggles, though." He never said anything about gloves.

I didn't get the job because I was too young to rent a car. I was bummed, but the job I did get set me on my path so I guess it all worked out.

And now, almost twenty years later, I'm finally pretty close to owning one of these things. It's really pretty amazing to know that in less than five years the tipping point will be reached and this will just be something somewhat common. I remember when that happened with VCRs, home computers, and GPS. First you knew a guy who knew a guy who was rich and owned one, then you knew a guy who owned one, then you owned one.

The world of plastic army men will be forever changed.
posted by bondcliff at 10:17 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Okay, so if I got one of these, is there a 3D scanning thingy that will let me scan objects so I can replicate them, or do I just have to learn how to use 3D modelling software instead?
posted by mightygodking at 10:20 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I'm the only geek on the planet who is kind of meh about 3D printers. For $2000 you can barely do anything (but we hope it'll really take off in the future) vs for the same amount getting a lathe and a mill, plus a bunch of ancillary tools and making actual stuff that really works.

I'd rather spend the time on designing new objects than learning an obsolete skill to build an object I designed. The time and expense of learning to become a machinist is not inconsiderable, and CNC milling machines and lathes begin at more than twice the cost of the priciest 3D printer on the list. Worse, if you think you're going to get any kind of accuracy from Harbor Freight or used equipment in that range, you're dreaming.

I mean, if you feel you can machine a period-accurate Cataphract to make a mold for your wargaming miniature army, go right ahead. I'd rather model mine on the computer and print it, thanks.

(Actually, what I really want to do is make barley candy molds - spaceships and ponies and other fun things. My nieces and nephews would go nuts over a little basket of candy toys at christmas or easter, a different collection each year.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:21 AM on January 30, 2013


ardgedee, I could not agree more, great timing for me, too! But instead of using it for work tonight, I think I'm going to bookmark it for tomorrow at work. Nothing better than reading MeFi at work FOR work! (happens not infrequently!)
posted by whatzit at 10:25 AM on January 30, 2013


for the same amount getting a lathe and a mill, plus a bunch of ancillary tools and making actual stuff that really works.

Those things are to a 3D printer what a tricked-out kitchen is to a microwave oven. Anyone can acquire those tools but not everyone has the ability or the time to learn the skills required to use them. Also, nobody ever set themselves on fire or sliced off a finger using their microwave.

Results are certainly better with the real kitchen or a machine shop, but it comes at a cost.
posted by bondcliff at 10:25 AM on January 30, 2013


It would help to have a 3D scanner, so we can replicate existing things.
posted by stbalbach at 10:29 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those things are to a 3D printer what a tricked-out kitchen is to a microwave oven.

Except for the "tricked out" I completely agree.

Now microwave me a turkey and some cookies.

The time and expense of learning to become a machinist is not inconsiderable, and CNC milling machines and lathes begin at more than twice the cost of the priciest 3D printer on the list. Worse, if you think you're going to get any kind of accuracy from Harbor Freight or used equipment in that range, you're dreaming.

Your first point is exactly my second point. The time to become a 3D printerist is ALSO not inconsiderable, it's just that we don't realize that now because we don't have any. We're all still at the "whoa, look at this cool thing!" stage but don't know how to make it work right yet. Once 3D printers are useful, you'll need a couple years of training to do it right, just like machining.

I don't know what you think used lathes cost or how inaccurate they are, but you are very wrong. You can do .001" work or better on a lathe you can buy used for under $1000. No 3D printer of today is anywhere close to that accuracy for that price.
posted by DU at 10:30 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


..what mightygodking just said.

In the late 80s I helped develop a 3D laser scanner while working for a defense contractor on a Reagan Star Wars project. It was pretty cool for the time, though nothing compared to what's available today. So the technology is not new, just is it cheap and workable.
posted by stbalbach at 10:32 AM on January 30, 2013


I really think a lot of technology change isn't driven so much by actual need so much as buy capitalists knowing they can hire younger operators for cheaper if they phase out the old technology.
posted by DU at 10:35 AM on January 30, 2013


A good lathe is a wonderful thing, but not so useful when making things that are not rotationally symmetrical.

Anyway, personal ownership of 3D printers is probably going to be an esoteric / eccentric hobbyist thing for a few years yet -- even if the printers get much cheaper and easier to use, very few people will want to have a 3D printer sitting around after the initial novelty wears off. They're not zero-maintenance, and they're not the easiest things to use yet.

On the other hand, community shops like hackerspaces are ideal places for these -- I wouldn't be surprised, too, if somebody figures out how to set up a profitable chain of corner shop style 3D print shops, a plastic fab version of Kinko's.

Principally, the "meh" pisses me off. There's some exciting damn thing happening here and a lot of people are excited and you're "meh" because it doesn't do what you want to do. That's fucking fantastic, but quit trying so hard to prove to us that this is not something we should be excited about because, basically, you're wrong.
posted by ardgedee at 10:41 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Once 3D printers are useful, you'll need a couple years of training to do it right, just like machining.

I don't know if this is entirely accurate (but am open to the possibility that it is accurate). You can take google sketchup images and export them to a 3D printer friendly format without much fuss. I have no formal training in design, but know my way around Adobe products (illustrator specifically). Google sketchup only took a month or two of playing with it on the weekends to get passable drawings out of it. If was using sketchup to make things for the house all the time, you'd be dam sure I'd get better at it quicker.

But yeah, sewing machines, lathes, mills, etc of any quality cost much more than $1k, especially if you're looking to produce anything of quality.

And besides, 3D printers are tools alongside all of those things that fill a particular niche, that seems a bit more household friendly than most of the other 'maker' tools described.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:43 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is going to change the face of art for ever.
posted by adamvasco at 10:45 AM on January 30, 2013


Your first point is exactly my second point. The time to become a 3D printerist is ALSO not inconsiderable, it's just that we don't realize that now because we don't have any.

We don't have anyone who understands CAD or 3D modeling? Really? You're going with that?

You can do .001" work or better on a lathe you can buy used for under $1000

OK, sure. I heard a guy once bought a sweet Porche out of a barn for $1000, too. You're also going to need a milling machine, drill press, stand grinder, and the tooling for 'em. Kinda creeping north of 3D printer territory now, huh? This also does not take into account the hundreds of hours you need to learn to translate blueprints into parts by hand.

No 3D printer of today is anywhere close to that accuracy for that price.

Wanna know how I know you didn't read the article?
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:46 AM on January 30, 2013


How many D&D minis would I have to churn out with one of these things to make it more cost effective than buying pewter minis?
posted by charred husk at 10:55 AM on January 30, 2013


Just one - where you put the DM's face on a dwarf wearing a bikini.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:58 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah the potential for gaming seems pretty large. One could design a game where designing the pieces is part of the game.
posted by stbalbach at 11:00 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


How many D&D minis would I have to churn out with one of these things to make it more cost effective than buying pewter minis?

Well, a 1kg spool of printing plastic stuff is $48. The average gaming miniature weighs about 25-50g. Now obviously pewter is denser and heavier than the plastic, but for the purposes of simplicity let's just say they weigh the same. So, you will get about, oh, let's say 33 miniatures per spool. If you bought pewter minis, 33 would probably cost you in the neighborhood of $300 or so, so each spool is effectively saving you $250 - which means after 3-9 spools, or 100-300 miniatures, you've paid for your printer with the savings.

Now, that seems like an awful lot of miniatures, and for D&D it is. But for historical wargaming - which has been ramping up in popularity over the last few years - 300 miniatures is several armies, so it's actually reasonable from that standpoint.
posted by mightygodking at 11:04 AM on January 30, 2013


Go on youtube and check out some of the CNC milling videos on there. Some of them are basically equivalent to 3D printers, except you create by removing, rather then create by adding. There are videos of entire engine blocks being made from solid blocks of aluminum.

And when you're done, your thing is made out of aluminum, steel, copper, titanium, whatever instead of soft plastic.

On the other hand the high-end 3D printers can create entire working mechanical devices with gears and such, which I don't think you can do on a CNC machine.
posted by delmoi at 11:08 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now, that seems like an awful lot of miniatures, and for D&D it is. But for historical wargaming - which has been ramping up in popularity over the last few years - 300 miniatures is several armies, so it's actually reasonable from that standpoint.

You'd only need to print a handful for an army, tho... you can use the printed miniature as the basis for a silicone mold, and cast the rest from cheap bulk resin. The trick is to design your original so it can be cast from a split mold with a minimum of flash.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:14 AM on January 30, 2013


Yes, artists gain easier access to plastic as a medium, as well as new promotional opportunities, adamvasco. Yes, the gamers love these already, stbalbach. Yet, killer app will be children's toys.

At present, parents pay hundreds for whatever plastic crap that advertisers indues the desire for amongst children. Fuck that.

Imagine a world where children gift toy copies like they gift mp3s today. Imagine if your formative experiences of scarcity were not that you could not have a toy by making it yourself but that'd you'd need to recycle an old to do so.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:23 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yet, killer app will be children's toys.

At present, parents pay hundreds for whatever plastic crap that advertisers indues the desire for amongst children. Fuck that.

Imagine a world where children gift toy copies like they gift mp3s today. Imagine if your formative experiences of scarcity were not that you could not have a toy by making it yourself but that'd you'd need to recycle an old to do so.


I have not seen any clear indication that I can recycle the plastic flotsam and jetsam of Chinese-made toy junk already infesting my house to make new stuff. That might be interesting. But I have to assume that toy plastic is of various grades and purity (?), or what have you, and you can't just chunk it in the hopper and make your kid a new Lego set.

Until that happens, my reaction to Yay More Plastic Crap More Easily is going to be ಠ_ಠ
posted by emjaybee at 11:33 AM on January 30, 2013


For my workshop, I'd be very excited about the ability to have an "affordable" CNC machine to churn out aluminum or steel replacement parts. But one of the hardest parts of ye olde car restoration is replacing original plastic pieces, since they're generally not made at all any longer.

If one of these things could do bakelite, then we're talking.
posted by maxwelton at 11:35 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


"FilaBot is a desktop extruding system, capable of grinding various types of plastics, to make spools of plastic filament for 3D printers."

Why recycle? Even kids with 3d printers and spare milk jugs must fit all their toys into the toy chest when cleaning their room. :)
posted by jeffburdges at 11:41 AM on January 30, 2013


PC LOAD LETTER.
posted by thewalrus at 11:42 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I await with dread the news of the first guy who uses a 3-D printer to make a My Little Pony model with holes in the appropriate places.
posted by happyroach at 11:42 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think I'm the only geek on the planet who is kind of meh about 3D printers.

No, I'm there with you. The democratization of CNC technology is a great thing, but I don't actually need any more bits of plastic crap cluttering up my house. If I am going to make an object, I want it to be durable, substantial, worth owning. So far I have not seen a 3D printer which can make an object I would actually want for any reason other than the novelty of having printed it out.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:48 AM on January 30, 2013


You can already print a tabletop centrifuge using a 3D printer (motor from Radio Shack).
posted by en forme de poire at 11:59 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


killer app will be children's toys.

Not just children's.
posted by smidgen at 12:01 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised, too, if somebody figures out how to set up a profitable chain of corner shop style 3D print shops, a plastic fab version of Kinko's.

The fact that a 3D print shop ala Kinko's already doesn't exist says something. People used printers to replace already existing print shops for things like banners, invitations, much like they used them to replace typewriters. People don't regularly pop down to the machine shop to get a custom object made.

Principally, the "meh" pisses me off. There's some exciting damn thing happening here and a lot of people are excited and you're "meh" because it doesn't do what you want to do. That's fucking fantastic, but quit trying so hard to prove to us that this is not something we should be excited about because, basically, you're wrong.

Well excuse if I'm not excited in a 5 by 5 by 5 piece of plastic. Excuse me if I compare it to the hyperbolic claims presented in breathless blog posts in Boing Boing and wired about printing things like computers and organs. I'm not excited because I haven't seen anything I couldn't accomplish with a copy of the Oriental Trading Company catalog and a phone.

Well, a 1kg spool of printing plastic stuff is $48. The average gaming miniature weighs about 25-50g. Now obviously pewter is denser and heavier than the plastic, but for the purposes of simplicity let's just say they weigh the same. So, you will get about, oh, let's say 33 miniatures per spool. If you bought pewter minis, 33 would probably cost you in the neighborhood of $300 or so, so each spool is effectively saving you $250 - which means after 3-9 spools, or 100-300 miniatures, you've paid for your printer with the savings.

Plastic minis are cheaper, especially if gotten from a large company. One of the largest kickstarters thus far was for a set of plastic minis, and $300 would get you:

Undertaker Level - A Package deal containing 4 each of 59 different Bones Models, + 3 Wraith levels + racks and signage. - This level is designed so that retail game stores can participate in this project. USA and Canadian Stores Only. Free Shipping

Single minatures cost about 3 or 4 dollars from their website. I'd also say that the pewter to plastic comparison is off on weight to number of figures, but probably in your favor.
posted by zabuni at 12:27 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, I'm glad to see these advancements coming along. On the other, I am so desperately jonesing for the logical extension of these that The Diamond Age describes, where molecular transformation and nanotechnology allow for the (re-)creation of just about anything. Alas, I'm pretty sure that's not going to show up in my lifetime.
posted by Brak at 12:27 PM on January 30, 2013


3-D Printed Houses made of fused sand sound like a wonderful thing to me. The house in the FPP is a bit of a tease as it is really just some 3-D printed sections of a house which then need to be filled with concrete anyway before they are really strong enough to use, but the idea is really tantalizing.
posted by Scientist at 12:30 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is pretty exciting. I've been eyeing Shapeways for printing various fun 3d things, and maybe one day I'll get around to it. Having something like this available directly though would definitely make life an adventure. All those moments of "I could TOTALLY make that myself" when hunting for some esoteric part in a home improvement store... Blissfully solved, on the spot.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 12:33 PM on January 30, 2013


Okay, so if I got one of these, is there a 3D scanning thingy that will let me scan objects so I can replicate them, or do I just have to learn how to use 3D modelling software instead?

Yes, we do! I've used a Faro arm with laser-scanner attachment to do 3-D scanning at work, and it can make everything from .stl files to 3-D .pdf files. The downside is, they're unholy expensive (and the software costs about as much as the universe). But that's more or less due to a monopoly, and I can see 3-D scanners being developed for a consumer market once the printers take off.

(For various reasons, I'm lary of talking about exactly what I use the Faro arm for at work, but if anyone's absolutely dying to know, drop me a MeMail.)
posted by kalimac at 1:15 PM on January 30, 2013


The recent animated film Parnorman used 3D printing to created thousands of facial expressions for its characters

Similarly, the animated Toys For Bob logo sequence in the Skylanders games was done by 3D-printing every frame of motion for the character then filming them in sequence as stop-motion. (interview + pics)
posted by anonymisc at 1:18 PM on January 30, 2013


Okay, so if I got one of these, is there a 3D scanning thingy that will let me scan objects so I can replicate them...

Last Fall Microsoft was talking up a free release of its Fusion scanning software for the Kinect.
posted by Iridic at 1:26 PM on January 30, 2013


For various reasons, I'm lary of talking about exactly what I use the Faro arm for at work, but if anyone's absolutely dying to know, drop me a MeMail.

We'll just all sit here and assume you scan porn star penises for a dildo company.
posted by bondcliff at 1:29 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay, so if I got one of these, is there a 3D scanning thingy that will let me scan objects so I can replicate them, or do I just have to learn how to use 3D modelling software instead?

An xbox Kinect and scanning software is less than $200 (YT videos), but obviously you'll get better results if you have the ability to touch-up your scans.
However, you probably won't often use a 3D printer to replicate something that exists - it's almost always a more expensive way to duplicate than the original item's traditional method of manufacture. Usually you'd use a 3D printer to replicate a fixed version of something that is broken (ie you'll want to touch up the scan to digitally fix whatever the break is), or to create something that doesn't exist, or something which outright cannot be manufactured by methods other than a 3D printer.
posted by anonymisc at 1:29 PM on January 30, 2013


People don't regularly pop down to the machine shop to get a custom object made.

This is because machine shops were traditionally not interested in helping you unless you put north of $5k on the table, or you're in the industry and they trust you know how to work with them. Machinists have good reason for not wanting to work with people who don't understand what is involved.
Even today, I have trouble finding places that will help with a single prototype (as opposed to the production run).

The interest has been there, but there hasn't been a viable way to cater to it.
posted by anonymisc at 1:42 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


What is the resolution of a Kinect scanner, generally?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:52 PM on January 30, 2013


At present, parents pay hundreds for whatever plastic crap that advertisers indues the desire for amongst children. Fuck that.

3D printers are not all that relevant to this. As you just pointed out, the value of those toys is not in the plastic of the toy, but in the millions of $$$ spent advertising it to the children. You need an entity to spend comparable resources marketing home-made toys to kids for 3D printers to compete.
posted by anonymisc at 1:54 PM on January 30, 2013


People don't regularly pop down to the machine shop to get a custom object made.
I suggest you pop down to your local Marine Engineering facility where it happens every day.
posted by adamvasco at 2:12 PM on January 30, 2013


I actually do a fair amount of 3D printing at work (I work with the group that designed the centrifuge above). It's actually very useful for printing small parts for scientific experiments and far cheaper that getting something machined. We do most of our design in Solidworks or Autocad Inventor (free for education) and it's pretty easy to design a part and print it. I find it far easier than trying to do CNC machining.

There are two things I noticed about the linked article is that it just recites the manufacturers claims - they didn't actually test any of the printers - and they don't mention which printers can print both solid and sacrificial material. The printer we use prints both ABS and a dissolvable support. The support material is critical - it means you can print overhangs, boxes with holes in them, and objects nested inside each other. Much of what I print would not work on a machine that can't print dissolvable support, so I think that's a pretty critical function.
posted by pombe at 2:31 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


As you just pointed out, the value of those toys is not in the plastic of the toy, but in the millions of $$$ spent advertising it to the children. You need an entity to spend comparable resources marketing home-made toys to kids for 3D printers to compete.

It might be possible to compete on quality as well. Your kid may covet a Buzz Lightyear big-wheel / skateboard / pogo stick or whatever, just like he saw on TV, just like the kid up the street has. But if he gets a home-printed equivalent that's just plain better made and more fun / faster / easier to ride, the tables could turn pretty easily, I expect.

Commercial and licensed products could wind up operating at a disadvantage in that regard; a lot of the revenue from sales go right back out the door for licensing and advertising, instead of going into the product itself. With non-commercial home-printed stuff, there's a potential for every dollar you spend to show up in the result.

Quality and design differences may not be as evident for all classes of toys, of course. I would guess that the appeal of a Barbie doll is, as you say, that it's Barbie, and that a higher-quality-in-some-way equivalent wouldn't have the same appeal.1

In the early days at least, while a Buzz Lightyear toy will be a commodity that anyone might have, a home-printed equivalent will be an exotic artifact that only a few rich kids have access to. There's potential for a sort of cachet there, which has been a factor behind the popularization of many other initially-expensive, ultimately-disruptive technologies, like telephones and cars and television and cell phones, etc.

1. My examples seem very sexist. I tried to think of other well-known examples that could trend the other way, with the "girly" toys being all about function and the "boy" toys being all about branding, but I've been out of touch with the toy market for many years and I failed. I don't know if that's an artifact of the way toys were made and marketed in my childhood or some failing of mine, personally. But please know that such sexism wasn't my intent.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:45 PM on January 30, 2013


I'm not even thinking about detailed plastic toys and tools, just basic blocks with a little patterning on one side and a series of holes at different angles that you can thread together with metal/plastic/wood pins and make into furniture.

The initial product wouldn't look great, but sew some pillows for it and the thing might be workable. Also, it would ideally entail printing one block dozens of times instead of designing multiple different pieces and printing each off.

Unless, of course, this is unfeasible for reasons I'm not aware of and/or illegal.
posted by Slackermagee at 3:31 PM on January 30, 2013


Blazecock Pileon: "What is the resolution of a Kinect scanner, generally?"

Surprisingly goddamned good.

I work with laser scanners on a semi-regular basis (somewhat similar to what kalimac does, I suspect ...) and a few weeks ago I was discussing with a distributor about a few handheld laser scanners (all of which are in the low-to-mid 5-digit prices). He said that in the short-term, I might want to contemplate grabbing a few kinects and working with them as a cheaper option. I was dubious, but the guy had a kinect handy and did a demo comparison of its point cloud results and those from one of the handhelds I was keen on, and the results were astonishing. You wouldn't do high-end micrometer-precision scans like you would with a FARO arm, and the precision is absolutely not there for any sort of engineering need or archive quality data retention, but for quick and dirty scanning? Awesome.

(Mind you, there was still going to be an utterly enormous outlay for the software required to do the real-time processing -- the license cost of the software is the real sticking point for scanning right now, I think.)

Despite doing this sort of thing, though, I'm also a bit "meh" on 3D printing. Having worked primarily on the digital side and data-processing side of the equation, rather than the tangible results side, it just seems like there's still far too much effort required to make models that are sound for printing, and the end results of the 3D printing I've seen still feel cheap and brittle. Maybe in a few years? Maybe. Though, even then, I don't think it will change things as much as people imagine. This isn't a replicator we're talking about here, after all ...
posted by barnacles at 6:25 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


These "3D Printers" open new avenues for IP rights infringements. There need to be licensing arrangements to compensate the holders of patents on three dimensional solids, and repercussions for pirate manufacturers using patented solids without permission or in violation of the license agreement.

Terrorist groups can now use these printers to quickly manufacture black-market weapons outside legitimate supply chains. Software running these printers must include the ability to detect and report suspicious objects being printed.

Further funding of shop machining is wasteful as 3D printers now provide a more accurate and cost effective solution. Tax breaks for firms that invest in 3D printing should be included along with spending cuts on social services in the next compromise debt reduction plan.
posted by eurypteris at 7:57 PM on January 30, 2013


Terrorist groups can now use these printers to quickly manufacture black-market weapons outside legitimate supply chains.

Oh, FFS. Watch out, the terrorists will be striking from orbit next, using 3-D printed rockets.
posted by Malor at 8:25 PM on January 30, 2013


(This is just ABS plastic. Even if you could somehow coax a bullet to fire using an ABS hammer, the "firearm" would explode. The only injured party would likely be the person holding the "gun".)
posted by Malor at 8:28 PM on January 30, 2013


Terrorist groups can now use these printers to quickly manufacture black-market weapons outside legitimate supply chains.

Look out! He's got a spork!
posted by Sys Rq at 9:27 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


eurypteris: "Terrorist groups can now use these printers to quickly manufacture black-market weapons outside legitimate supply chains. Software running these printers must include the ability to detect and report suspicious objects being printed."

Heh, wow. Spoken like someone who clearly has no idea of the actual physics at play in firearms.
posted by barnacles at 11:10 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even if most of the uses now are for niches like artists, hobbyists, etc, it's very cool that this technology exists, and is getting closer to being accessible for the average person. I'm no engineer, but it seems to me that materials science will be very important to 3D printing going forward. When someone can develop a material/curing process for use with 3D printers that results in objects that are more durable (i.e. comparable to metal, stronger ceramics or plastics), that should open up a lot of possibilities, right? Seems like there'd be money in it, too.

As for the idea of kids making their own plastic toys at home, I can't be the only person here old enough to remember the Vac-U-Form and the Thingmaker, both of which involved turning raw plastic materials into little toys and other objects. As a data point, I had both of 'em as a kid, and had quite a bit of fun playing with them, for a couple of years at least.

In the future I suspect an analogous product using the idea behind 3D printers might do well, if it were designed, marketed & priced right. I guess it could be just a software package for the family's printer, with the ability to add on different templates for new/different toys.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 12:50 AM on January 31, 2013


Joke's on you! My 3D printer can print a bulletproof shield... with a saw blade!
posted by ardgedee at 4:15 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


My interest in 3D printing is mostly curiosity, I'll admit, although I've been building a small list of practical things to make that I could use, and a somewhat longer list of things that would be nice to have.

That the material is plastic and the light, rough brittle feel makes it seem cheap can be a problem or a virtue, depending on what you're using it for. I don't think there's going to be much of a market for 3D-printed axe handles or sex toys in the short term. On the other hand, there can be a great advantage to being able to make utterly prosaic things (pen barrels, phone cases, wire clips) that can be modified as needed to perfectly fit my circumstances.

The initial investment -- even at the low end -- for making plastic clips is outrageous, so on top of that you have to have the early adopter or home hobbyist mentality. On the other hand, if you're inclined to have a lathe or woodshop equipment in your garage, you've also probably committed yourself to spending on equipment whose cost is disproportionate to the practical things you make with it. This is neither a good nor bad thing, it's the natural consequence of having a hobby. People spend more and get less material benefit out of owning home theaters or sports cars.
posted by ardgedee at 4:42 AM on January 31, 2013


I'm also now wondering where the IP and copyright law is going to go with this. People have been talking about using this for children's toys. Why buy the new Star Wars figure when you can make one for a fraction of the price? So websites open up with 3D models of Star Wars characters for printing...

I know what happens then - Disney breaks out the lawyers. But what is the final result? For someone who works at an IP lawfirm (as IT) I have a shitty understanding of copyright law.
posted by charred husk at 8:45 AM on January 31, 2013


> Why buy the new Star Wars figure when you can make one for a fraction of the price?

Because the intact, pristine packaging and the provenance are crucial to its value on the collector's market. Even assuming you could convincingly replicate the toys themselves with your printer (right now, you can't), you'd still have to take the effort to counterfeit the vacuum-formed plastic case, the four-color printed cardboard box or card, and any additional bits.

Counterfeiting things like this is relatively economical to do per-unit at mass production scale, but pointless to do as one-offs; you'd spend more than it would cost to buy the toy away from Comic Book Guy.

Where IP law is more likely to come into play is not counterfeiting toys and dolls, but when people make up entirely new things that are based on existing brands (sex toys shaped to look like Donald Duck, say), and are for some reason getting enough attention in doing it that lawyers take notice.
posted by ardgedee at 10:05 AM on January 31, 2013


There's some exciting damn thing happening here and a lot of people are excited and you're "meh" because it doesn't do what you want to do.

I think it's important to keep things in perspective and not become overtaken by hype or excitement.

I remember when desktop laser printers became available, and when they were right around the same pricepoint that 3D printers are now. There was a lot of talk in some quarters that they were going to completely upend publishing, that they were the most important thing that had ever happened since Gutenberg's press, that it was going to lead to a new Renaissance wherein everyone was going to write books and everyone was going to be an author and ... well, no. Not exactly, anyway.

Quite a few of those things happened, but they didn't happen because of or even largely as a result of cheap desktop printers. They wiped out a lot of in-house print shops, but didn't quite lead to everyone becoming authors and churning out tiny print runs of their latest books on their LaserWriter.

So while I'm bullish on 3D printing and I also think that we're headed for more disruption of existing manufacturing methods and industries, I'm not sure that the 3D printer itself will necessarily be the catalyst. It's just the tip of the iceberg, a particular expression of a lot of technologies that are all improving and decreasing in cost.

If you had bet big on inexpensive SOHO laser printers disrupting publishing and leading to a self-publishing renaissance, you'd have been both wrong about the technology and off by more than a decade. Doesn't mean that laser printers aren't neat, or that it isn't awesome that I have the ability to produce "camera ready" (to borrow a term that almost nobody uses anymore) output that would have required a printshop not that long ago. But sometimes we need to take the latest technology's hype with some salt.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:05 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Heh, wow. Spoken like someone who clearly has no idea of the actual physics at play in firearms.

(This is just ABS plastic. Even if you could somehow coax a bullet to fire using an ABS hammer, the "firearm" would explode. The only injured party would likely be the person holding the "gun".)

I think this (common) intuitive response is a failure of engineering imagination and/or physics. It's easy to see the implausibility of printing out a working replica M-16 automatic rifle from plastic, but it's silly to jump from that to thinking that simpler, cruder, disposable firearms couldn't be constructed.
posted by anonymisc at 7:21 PM on January 31, 2013


These "3D Printers" open new avenues for IP rights infringements.

Yea. I hear language and the written word does that too.

Best, in the interest of the "people" who hold "IP Rights", the US work to lower its rank of school performance.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:06 AM on February 1, 2013


Any of these 3d units (or a different unit) output wax?

Or the other way - any of these units allow one to make a plaster mold that one can pour hot metal into?

The consumable costs and 20,000 cost for a 'plaster mold' printing machine is more expensive that I am willing to bear.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:13 AM on February 1, 2013


simpler, cruder, disposable firearms couldn't be constructed.

WWII designs of guns dropped into France for the resistance strikes me as a simpler starting point.

VS needing a 3d printer.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:18 AM on February 1, 2013


> any of these units allow one to make a plaster mold that one can pour hot metal into?

Main problem I've seen with 3D printers so far has been the need for finishing after printing -- the surfaces are not smooth (since it's layers and layers of fine plastic bead lines) and you probably won't have an awesome time trying to pull the cast off the mould.
posted by ardgedee at 6:28 AM on February 1, 2013


Aren't the plaster molds themselves relatively cheap though? There are definitely people who print the plastic part, finish it, and then make the mold from that part, although perhaps they use finishing steps beyond merely sanding the part or use printers that print very slowely with much greater precision. I'd expect the larger challenges are printing both smooth and fast at the same time and printing directly with metal.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:53 AM on February 1, 2013


3D Printer Makes Intricate Sand Castles, Wins All the Sand Castle Competitions

Markus Kayser Builds a Solar-Powered 3D Printer that Prints Glass from Sand and a Sun-Powered Cutter
posted by jeffburdges at 9:56 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The project began with a mechanical hand".
posted by adamvasco at 2:29 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lynx A camera generates 3D models in real time
posted by stbalbach at 4:53 PM on February 7, 2013


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