Friday, September 21, 2012

Are we there yet?

MakerBot just announced their new Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer. It is 37% bigger and more accurate—100 microns per inch. (One micron is about the thickness of a sheet of paper).

We have been watching 3D printing technology evolve for the last 15-20 years. Every year there are major advances but until now it hasn't quite gotten there yet. That is to say, when will desktop 3D printing start doing for product design what 2D desktop printing does for graphics design?

So, are we there yet?

Our check list:
  • Cost
    • Purchase price under $3,000: Yes.
    • Supplies: Close enough.
  • Accuracy: Good enough for most applications.
  • Speed: Maybe.
  • Durability: Too early to tell.
  • Ease of use: This could be a software problem. If it is not easy enough for most Rhino users, it is likely our fault.
So the answer is: Yes, we are nearly there.

We are expecting that most of you (750,000+ designers) don't have a 3D printer yet and will buy one in the coming year. And you will replace it within two years or less with something more amazing.


Neil Poulton said...

Hey, I have this year's Makerbot Dual Replicator 1 (not the brand new V2 model) and it's fantastic, but it demands a lot of time and effort.
Prints are generally a bit of a hit & miss affair. The bot glitches, it produces a lot of bad prints and you trash a lot, I mean a lot of material. At $50/kilo, that's expensive trash.
Print time is also very slow and you can count 3-4 hours for a small print (with acceleration). Integration with Rhino is pretty seamless is you know how to correctly prepare airtight .stl files. But the bot needs to print a layer onto some sort of support and you have to repeatedly rethink your file so that the bot isn't just extruding plastic onto thin air. Which can be very time consuming. The Replicator GCode software also sometimes finds faults in .stl files generated in Rhino (5 & 4)- flaws which Rhino can't detect (?) There's a free online gcode file repair service, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.
So the Replicator 1 is an amazing hobby tool if you're not on a deadline, but it's too unreliable and slow to use professionally. Hopefully the new V2 model will be streets ahead and address at least some of these problems - Even after all this negative feedback, I will be getting one shortly.
So to get back to the question, no we're probably not there yet, but it won't be long.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has been watching the printer market for the past few years (we currently use cnc mills in our workshop) I would absolutely agree that 2013 will be the year of the in-house 3D printer. Makerbot is a harder call. The company has recently gone closed source, jettisoned one of the more technically skilled founders and stopped supporting ABS (which won't be supported even in the dual extruder model Replicator 2X, even though it is a "compatible material"). 3D printing has been hamstrung over the last few decades by manufacturers aiming purely at a market that can justify sky-high material costs and higher printer costs. For many small shops in-house printers haven't been worth the money. The hobby market has enabled this revolution and hopefully a healthy "prosumer" middle ground will develop, but I question whether Makerbot will really be able to fill that space. In the interim, we send our 3D printing out of house to Shapeways (never had a problem with our Rhino generated models) or to small shops using ultimakers and replicators who don't mind troubleshooting the printing for us.

Unknown said...

The original post from McNeel said,

"This could be a software problem."

Does this mean there are known issues between Replicator 2 and Rhino? Or do they play well together?