It’s five AM and I’m up at my computer. I feel like a small boy again on Christmas morning, except I still have to wait another thirty minutes before my 3D printer finishes its first model. I started the printing over nine hours ago and then tried to sleep.
Ever since I heard the concept I’ve wanted a 3D printer. The early printers used a laser with a pool of chemicals. Where the laser hit the surface, the chemicals would harden into a plastic. Lower the object very slightly to cover the surface with more of the chemical bath and use the laser to create another layer. Slow, messy and very expensive. I still wanted one but it was relegated to things I would buy if I won the lottery.
About five years ago a friend was telling me about a 3D printer that he had seen at a Maker Faire. He described a version that used a heated nozzle to deposit plastic, much like a very precise glue gun. This used a similar method to the 3D laser printer, print one layer, move the table down (or the nozzle up) and print the next layer until the model was finished. Still slow, although not nearly as messy, not as expensive and unfortunately, nowhere near as precise as the laser versions.
Still, this was something that the hobbyist could build for themselves. Build, refine and ultimately start selling kits for other hobbyist. As more and more hobbyist played with them and made their improvements, the accuracy improved and the price dropped.
When Staples announced a 3D printer for $1000, 3D printers moved from my “if I ever win the lottery list” to my “watch this technology closely” list. When Amazon had a special on a small desktop 3D printer at $829, I almost bought it. I put it on my want list so I could keep track. I was disappointed when the price returned to $900 but I acknowledged I had no need for a 3D printer. Still, it was obvious I had a very bad case of Technolust.
This June Amazon offered a UP! Mini 3D printer for $599 and at that price they found my threshold. Last year I had talked my wife into approving a computer upgrade for me, giving me a $2000 budget. I have yet to upgrade because Intel and Nvidia seem to have abandoned the speed race in favor of lower power but a 3D printer seems like a technology upgrade doesn’t it?
Still, I discussed it with my wife. She may not be as technology focused as I am but she was bound to realize that the black box making all the noise was not a computer upgrade. She made it easy, as long as I did not burn the house down with it (considering some of the things I’ve done, this isn’t quite the empty promise you might think), I was free to divert the money. With tax and shipping I was out $636.
A very long time ago I bought my first dot-matrix printer, a Centronics 779 for $995. It was big, clunky, slow and had a tendency for one of the solenoids on the print head to stick, making your printouts look really funny. It was also one of the first printers designed for the home market. A year later Epson introduced their MX-80 for a show price of $430. Faster, lighter and more reliable. The race was on.
I’m reminded of that part of computer history because I’m sensing the same type of revolution here. Before the Centronics 779, almost no one had a printer for their home computer. After Epson entered the market, almost everyone with a computer had a printer.
I’m not predicting a 3D printer in every home but they’re entering the mainstream of our culture, much like the personal computer did so long ago and like the personal computer, we’ll be astounded at the impact.
Oops, my printer is signaling that it’s finished, have to go now. What about my printer? Do I like it? All that and more in my next post. For now a small teaser will have to do;
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