“It may be only a matter of time until a 3-D printer shares shelf space in the home with a laptop or TV,” reports Steven Kurutz in The New York Times (2/21/13). It may be a matter of a very long time, but the excitement over 3-D printers — which use layers of heated plastic to turn computer-generated designs into useful objects — is somewhat reminiscent of the early days of personal computers. At this point, it’s mainly hobbyists, enthusiasts and early adopters who are tinkering with the devices, but some envision a day when a 3-D printer sits next to the coffee machine as a home-appliance mainstay.
Among them is Brook Drumm, creator of the Printrbot, a 3-D printer kit. “The goal for the company,” says Brook, “is a printer in every home and every school.” The potential is not only of invention, but also to generate everyday replacement parts. Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot, oversees a “file-sharing database” known as Thingiverse, which “currently holds more than 36,000 downloadable designs.” He says people are using designs from Thingiverse to print-out replacement parts for their blenders and espresso machines. MakerBot has also opened perhaps the first 3-D printer retail store, featuring its $2,200 3-D printer, the Replicator 2.
Many are reportedly “mesmerized” watching the machine do its thing, but the $2,200 price-tag is likely an obstacle for the average consumer. The machines are not foolproof, either, and the results are sometimes crude. But Bre hopes parents “will buy 3-D printers for their children, despite their current limitations, in the same way his family purchased a Commodore 64 home computer back in the early 1980s.” Justin Levinson, editor of Makeshift magazine, sees practicality as the key; he used a 3-D printer to fix his mother’s oven. “Entire objects are rendered useless because a stupid piece of plastic broke,” he says, adding that the ability to print out parts “makes the life cycle of objects a lot longer.”