3D printers have come in for some controversy after the world’s first gun made with 3D printer technology was successfully fired in the US earlier this year.
But, while critics say they make the production of potentially harmful weapons all too easy, manufacturers claim 3D printers are also a force for good. Twitter went crazy for the cute story of a little duck named Buttercup, who was born with his foot facing the wrong way. He was able to take his first steps using a new foot especially made for him with a 3D printer.
And now, it is hoped the technology will gain widespread use in the home, and in schools, after Maplin announced it is to be the first high street retailer to sell 3D printers for home use.
`Priced at £699.99, the Velleman K8200 is a build-it-yourself printer that allows you to print pretty much any design you want, just as long as it is below 20cm tall.
Maplin’s commercial director Oliver Meakin, said he anticipated a high interest from tech-savvy families, as well as from some schools. “I hope some children will be using this rather than playing video games,” he added.
Maplin describes the gizmo as a “build-it-yourself 3D printer kit for everyone,” adding: “It’s super easy to use, and helps you turn your ideas into real stuff you can hold, like toys, product prototypes and replacement parts.”
Taking up just a little more room than a conventional 2D printer, the K8200 works by layering up plastic to form a solid object. It melts plastic filament, before drawing with it in a very fine layer, then building another layer of plastic on top, and then another, and another, until your design becomes a reality.
To use, you buy PLA plastic, with cartridges weighing 1KG costing £29.99. And, just like printer ink, PLA comes in different colours. At the moment, there is a choice of black, white, blue, red, orange, green, yellow or pink.
There’s no way to mix colours, but if you do want your finished piece to be more than one hue, you can print it out in separate pieces before attaching together.
3D printing does, however, take rather a lot longer than the standard 2D variety. Maplin gives the example of a smartphone case, which it says would take around half an hour to complete.
We’re sure we’d have a lot of fun creating 3D designs. But, whether a 3D printer for home use has anything more than novelty value remains to be seen.
Maplin, however, believes the relatively low cost will help 3D printing become popular in the home. “Until now,” said Meakin, “the cost of 3D printers limited their use to the professional market. However, the Velleman K8200 kit has enabled us to introduce 3D printing to the mass market.”
He said he expected part of the enjoyment to come from putting the printer kit together before use. “So users are not just investing in a great product, but a great experience too.”