While 3D printing technology has been around for nearly 30 years—and appeared on our Things to Watch list for 2011—it’s lately become far more accessible to consumers and small business. With manufacturers now selling printers in the $1,000 range, several retailers have started offering the devices. Amazon is selling 40-plus 3D printers that range from $800 to $3,000. Staples now sells the Cube printer for around $1,300, and in the U.K., Maplin Electronics is taking pre-orders for the £700 Velleman K8200. Two Microsoft stores in the Bay Area are selling MakerBot’s pricier Replicator 2.
For those with personal printers, Microsoft recently announced that it has partnered with a range of firms to add built-in support for 3D printing in its upcoming Windows 8.1 update. Consumers without their own printers can order things they “need or like” using services like eBay’s new Exact app, which allows users to design and order 3D-printed accessories. At least one major retailer is planning for a future when 3D printers proliferate: Tesco is investigating how 3D printing might “change the way stores work”—e.g., customers could design items and have them created in store or get replacement parts printed.
With 3D printing now possible in metal and not just plastics, the possibilities keep expanding. Some argue that the technology will revolutionize manufacturing, empowering entrepreneurs in fields from the automotive to medical industries. “Just as desktop publishing transformed how we write, we think desktop manufacturing will transform how we create,” declares a Microsoft blog post.
Image credit: MakerBot