3-D Printing for the Rest of Us

3-D Printing for the Rest of Us

By Vignesh Ramachandran


Because one of today’s coolest tech phenomena could be coming soon to your home office.

By Vignesh Ramachandran

Your aging HP inkjet printer didn’t see this coming.

Three-dimensional printing might be about to get a whole lot more … tangible. Certainly, a few early geeks hopped on the 3-D printing bandwagon — but nownew, consumer-oriented 3-D printer is taking the Kickstarter community by storm, reaching its $50,000 goal in only 11 minutes in early April. The campaign closes Wednesday. The Average-Joe-slash-Jane-friendly printer, from Bethesda, Maryland-based M3D, is theoretically ready to use out of the box.

The Micro hooks up to your computer via USB. The 3-D printer software comes with a library of existing parts, or you can download or create models. The printer can support different filament spools (a spool of material feeds into the printer so it can produce a physical product, acting as the 3-D printer’s “printer cartridge”), including materials like nylon, ABS plastic and PLA plastic.

And what all that tech mumbo jumbo means is …  if a shower hook fell and broke, you could print a replacement hook in a jiffy. Or you could print a replacement cookie cutter for a lost one. Or print homemade jewelry whenever you want. Whether this means fewer trips to the hardware store or a new product economy centered around 3-D designs you can print, it could change the way we think about manufacturing physical goods.

While there are a number of other consumer 3-D printers out there, the Micro is one of the cheapest and may provide good bang for your buck.

“The first time people see a 3-D printer in motion, it’s captivating — people are mesmerized by it,” said M3D co-founder Michael Armani in the Kickstarter video. “[A] 3-D printer is kind of like magic. One minute, you have this box on your desk, and the next minute, you see an object out of thin air.”

M3D says the Micro reduces power consumption by a factor of 10, compared to professional 3-D printers — so that better power efficiency allowed M3D to use cheaper electronics and lighter components. Measuring only 7.3 inches per side and weighing about 2.2 pounds, it’s a gadget that could easily sit on your desk or countertop. 

The Kickstarter community’s overwhelming reaction to the Micro is stunning: Over 11,300 backers have pledged more than $3.2 million as of Saturday. About 500 new backers can still get a Micro 3-D printer with a pledge of at least $299, expected to ship in February 2015.