A look at the 3D printers that could soon become household gadgets

3D printing: A new dimension?

With the CEA revealing that 3D printing will have its own exhibit area at CES 2014 and a number of UK retailers now stocking the devices, its clear that the technology has built itself a strong market foundation.

The idea of 3D printing is not brand new – in fact, the first working 3D printer was created in 1984. But while in the past the technology has largely been restricted to industries such as industrial design and aerospace, in recent years it has advanced, producing smaller form-factor printers with more affordable price points.
As the sector grows in popularity, the CEA has revealed that 3D printing will have its own exhibit area at CES 2014.

“3D printing is one of the most dynamic and innovative categories within our industry,” says Karen Chupka, senior vice president of international CES and corporate business strategy for the CEA.

The upcoming boom in the market is clear: Gartner reports that worldwide shipments of 3D printers are expected to grow 75 per cent in 2014.

With all the hype around the category, retailers and distributors are understandably keen to jump on board and make 3D printers more easily available to consumers.

Johnathan Marsh, head of buying electricals at John Lewis, tells PCR that the retailer will “definitely” be stocking the devices: “It’s early days but it’s very exciting. The opportunity to create your own things in this way is fantastic.

“I think you will get people like LEGO and games producers really endorsing and developing software products around this space. When they start doing that in a real serious way, the market could explode and do very well.”

Midwich has recently announced that it will distribute devices from 3D printing specialist 3D Systems. “With the recent government announcement promoting 3D print technology in education we are expecting high demand in this area,” says business manager Jonathan Francis.

“Initial feedback from our education customers is extremely positive and there is a real buzz about an affordable and easy-to-use 3D print solution coming into the channel.”

As well as catering to the education sector, 3D Systems has also announced that its Cube printer will be available at Currys and PC World.

“The Cube is the only 3D printer designed and certified for home use, making it safe for children eight years old and up,” Alyssa Reichental from 3D Systems tells PCR.

“It’s designed to fit into your home along with all your other gadgets and is the only plug-and-play 3D printer right out of the box – you can be printing within 20 minutes.”

Other retailers that have jumped on board to stock 3D printers are Maplin, which is currently selling Velleman K8200 3D printing kits, and Selfridges, which will sell a range of devices within a 3D printing pop-up shop in its Oxford Street store in the lead up to Christmas.

Asda has decided to go down a slightly different route by setting up a 3D printing service at one of its major UK stores. As long as the object is no bigger than a family-sized car, consumers will be able to get an eight-inch model produced. This can include a recreation of a real person – something that Asda believes will be one of the most popular uses for the service.

Kickstarter has proved to be a popular platform for companies and individuals attempting to draw attention to their 3D printer projects. Start-up firm Occipital caused a stir with its ‘world’s first’ 3D sensor for mobile devices. This device offers consumers the chance to capture 3D models of objects and people on a smartphone or tablet and send it to a device for 3D printing.

The Peachy Printer, which claims to be the first 3D printer and scanner under $100, has also been getting a lot of attention. Rylan Grayston from Rinnovated Design, the firm behind the Peachy Printer, tells PCR that after backers’ orders have been filled the printer’s availability at UK retail is “one of our first priorities”.

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