Micro Brings 3D Printing to the Mainstream
The idea of a 3D printer in every home seems a bit more likely with the debut of the Micro -- a small, colorful, inexpensive, user-friendly device. Who wouldn't want to avoid a trip to the hardware store by quickly manufacturing a replacement for that broken little thingamajig? "3D printing is going to change our lives for sure, especially in the medical field," said mechanical designer Alan Lund.
The Micro is the latest consumer-targeted 3D printer to generate buzz after flying past its US$50,000 Kickstarter goal this week.
It took only 11 minutes for the printer to reach its goal. As of mid-day Wednesday, the Micro had brought in more than $1.8 million from more than 6,400 backers.
The Micro is the world's "first truly consumer 3D printer," its makers claim, in part because of its affordable price. Two hundred fifty Kickstarter backers were able to claim the Micro for $199, and another 500 pledged $249 or more to get their hands on one.
Kickstarter users can still donate $299 or more -- including an $899 package deal that includes five filament spools and the chance to be part of a feedback panel -- to snag a Micro. MakerBot's Replicator Mini, a similarly marketed 3D printer, is retailing at a pre-order price of $1,375.
M3D, the company behind the Micro, is touting the machine's lightweight design and user-friendly app and software as part of its consumer appeal.
It wanted to make the software as "fun and futuristic" as the 3D printer, the company said, so it worked to create a touchscreen-capable, minimalist interface. Users can search for objects and 3D models online, organize them into a browsable library, drag them to the printer, adjust and simply hit print.
While the software is designed to be accessible to the everyday user, more experienced users also can experiment with advanced settings.
The device comes in five colors and supports materials including ABS, PLA and Nylon. The M3D team expects "fulfillment of Kickstarter rewards" between August of 2014 and March of 2015.
Going After the Everyday Consumer
The Micro certainly has some compelling features for the growing crowd of mainstream consumers looking to experiment more with 3D printing, said Adam Cohen, principal consultant and CEO at Additive Insight.
"The price is attractive, for sure," he told TechNewsWorld. "The early birds got one for as little as $200, which is the lowest price I've ever heard of, and explains why it moved so fast on Kickstarter."
The user-friendly design -- unlike other models that have a steep learning curve -- is also a huge selling point for the Micro, said Alan Lund, mechanical designer at 3DProtoPrint.
"The greatest feature that this has is the auto-leveling and auto-calibration," he told TechNewsWorld. "This is one of the frustrating issues with other entry-level printers, so if it does work, that could make a big difference whether it is successful or not."
Standing Out From the Crowd
Going forward, Micro's challenge is going to be living up to its hype, said Lund. The device is one of several recently to spark mainstream consumer interest, but it can be tough to move past a hefty Kickstarter haul and on to the process of creating a device that will become a lasting brand.
"There have been plenty of 3D printers claiming that they are the printer that everyone can use," Lund noted.
"The RigidBot raised over a million, but has really struggled with manufacturing in China and delivering what [Michael Lundwall] promised on his Kickstarter campaign," he pointed out.
"3D printing is going to change our lives for sure, especially in the medical field," Lund continued. "Do I think everyone is going to have a 3D printer in their house in the future? I don't think so. I think every person that likes to tinker will have one, but I don't ever see it in every household."
It will be difficult for Micro to be the printer that would make it into every household, said Additive Insight's Cohen. It likely will have its loyal and dedicated users, but it remains to be seen which -- if any -- 3D printer really can be the first truly consumer one.
"Everyone and his brother is creating a new 3D printer, mostly based on Fused Deposition Modeling and often launching them on Kickstarter," he noted. "Consumer adoption requires not just easy setup and use, but a knowledge of how to design, a knowledge of how to prepare files, a willingness to use, maintain and supply the machine -- and most of all, a killer app. Even at a low price, I don't think the Micro changes much."