There has been a lot of hype on 3D printers at last year CES and now this year I saw tons of competitors offering low-end models as well as high-end professional desktops. XYZprinting Inc. from Taiwan, a new entrant revealed their da Vinci 3D printer with a starting price of just $499, cost as much as a color laser printer a few years back. It is a simple plug-and-play design for small business and personal use. Now I am not sure how often if you need to use one if you’re not a designer. The nice thing is it allows access to a database for free 3D models and 12 different color filaments to choose from. I guess you can print your iPhone case, earings or even chess set. Still hard to think of a reason to own one at home other than novelty.
On the higher end,ChefJet 3D printer and the ChefJet 3D Pro printer costing between $5,00 to $10,000. There is the Solidoodle’s 4th generation printer priced at $999 which I have not tried out. And there is the MakerBot’s Replicator priced at $2,899 but this year they introduced a compact Replicator Mini which will cost $1,375. Another 3D printer maker Cube will be introducing a new model which will be priced under $1,000. We can see these printers selling below $500 in a year as they will get aggressive in pricing to gain market share. The quesion remain what is the reason to own one?
I don’t think the business is in home 3D printers, the real money is in the business market such as the ability to print spare parts, or complete part without assembly and complex inner structures too difficult to be machined. 3D printing makes it possible to manufacture pretty much anything in just 5-10 hours depending what you’re printing, and, as you can surely imagine, this capability would come in very handy in product parts which sometimes take days to locate and ship due to inventory supply issues. A piece of equipment breaks and your repair technician can print it for you.
3D printing has attracted a lot of interest but still at it's infancy, the material science necessary for a lot of these claims about printing tooth or even human organs just isn't there yet. You can't use the same plastic or metal for different parts. It comes down to different tolerances and they are critical. So we’re a few years away. And we will get there.