There has been much discussion recently about 3D printing, especially with the idiots producing the plastic gun, but has 3D printing got to the stage were it is viable for domestic use, a replicator in every front room, or more likely garage?
3D printing is now commonly used in industry but still mostly as a prototyping system, where it is superbly equipped to shorten the development process, reduce costs and give marketing something to play with and get excited about. Once things get to the manufacturing stage, injection moulding still wins in most cases.
What about home use of 3D printing, has this become viable? Well you can’t buy them in Curry’s, Walmart or Tesco yet but this will probably change in a couple of years. At this stage, the prices have come down dramatically so there are a number of models available for under $1000 or about £640, comparable with plasma TVs or Smart Phones. For this money, don’t expect a sleek unobtrusive unit that will look good in the living room but they do work. If the trend follows other electronic goods, in a few years time they will be even cheaper (or more likely, you will get more features for the same money). Chinese companies are not heavily involved yet, so expect price falls when they do jump in the pool.
There are three elements to a 3D printing setup to consider, design software, the printer itself and material cost. Just like normal printers, the cheaper the unit the more expensive the toner or plastic in this case. At this point, the cost of the material for a cheap printer means that you are unlikely to make your fortune selling custom plastic figures on Ebay. But things are moving fast and maybe far sighted people should become familiar with the technology and design software now to be ahead of the curve.
So what printer should you consider?