And there was plenty to think about. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) hosted in Las Vegas, USA for 2012, even before its doors open today, has got the year off to an explosive start. As I mentioned yesterday, 3D Systems is using this event as the platform for launching Cubify.com and introducing the consumer-targeted Cube 3D printer (of which more later).
Makerbot's early 2012 announcement, introducing the Replicator 3D printer, was also revealed yesterday, and will be at this show. Makerbot has achieved extraordinary things since it launched just over two years ago — not least the following it has acquired, which is both brilliant and astonishing. Bre Pettis, who has actively lead the company since its inception, has instigated a very effective formula that combines technological know-how with successful engagement of his target market. The dividends speak for themselves.
The new Replicator 3D printer takes the Makerbot offerings to the next level. It comes fully assembled, as a plug & play machine, with improved features such as a larger build area and "Dualstrusion", essentially the ability to print two materials within the same build. The price is $1999 or $1749 for the single extruder version. Although targeted at "personalised manufacturing" I don't think this price point is quite right for that yet, but I have already heard a multitude of converts say they want one!
I imagine Makerbot's stand will be inundated later on today when CES opens its doors.
Another very interesting announcement came recently from Sculpteo. After nicely overhauling it's website for the start of the year, this 3D print company has launched a very neat new iphone app providing easy mobile access to 3d printable data. Accessibility to customisable, 3D printable data, which encapsulates and liberates one of the biggest selling points of 3D printing, namely the ability to print unique, personalised products quickly, easily and cheaply, is the way to grow. This is also what the Cubify.com platform is bringing with it. Easy access to 3D data for 3D printing. The little girl with the yellow shoes testifies to that! Cubify goes live about four hours from now (thanks Deelip!) and I imagine I won't be the only one testing it out today ;-)
I do still see the Sculpteo-type business model as the main growth area for 3D printing within the consumer industry for the foreseeable future. Consumers, in the main, will be attracted to the ability to choose and customise their own products, and have a 3rd party print and send. We will have to wait a few months to see if the Cube or Replicator proves me wrong — or indeed, any of the others!
In terms of unit sales of 3D printers, I am sure they will continue to grow also. For now though, I see the greatest target markets for these as SME's and educational institutions. Getting the design tools and 3D printers into classrooms across the board, is, I am convinced, the surest way of growing the market in the longer term, whilst exciting future generations of designers and engineers and growing these skill bases once again. Moreover, as I have said before, if children grow up comfortable with these technologies in the classroom, they will be confident when it comes to having one in their home! And that's the ultimate goal, isn't it?