MakerBot brings 3D printing to the home


DO you remember the first thing you ever printed out? I made a family newsletter, birthday cards and signs on a program called The Print Shop. What made a printer useful at home was self-evident: it made anyone a publisher.

Now we’re entering the era of machines that can fashion ideas into tangible objects.

For industrial uses, 3D printing’s promise is already well-known. It’s capable of producing custom heart valves and jet engine parts. But now it’s getting personal. A company called MakerBot just started selling a 3D printer that’s easy to use.

The 3D printer has arrived at home — what you’ll print with it isn’t as ­obvious.

Is a 3D printer like an infinite dollar store on your desktop? (You’ll never have to buy a comb again!) Is it a factory for lost Lego pieces and Ikea parts?

I’ve been using two models from MakerBot, including the new entry-level Replicator Mini, on a quest to figure out why anyone might need one. The Makerbot Replicator Mini costs $1995 in Australia.

I printed dozens of plastic doodads — bottle openers, little chains that materialise already linked, even a Mr Snuffleupagus toy. Yet I haven’t yet found a killer practical application that makes a 3D printer a must-have household appliance. You’ll be disappointed if you hope to justify the price of a MakerBot Mini with fewer trips to Target.

But what the Replicator Mini has going for it is a combination of hardware and software that makes 3D remarkably accessible. MakerBot wisely realised that few of us have 3D design expertise. So it augments its printer with an iTunes-like store for downloading printable objects, an app — also called PrintShop — to design your own items and an active community that keeps giving you reasons to make things

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