How soon might the average person own a 3-D printer?
Depends on whom you ask.
Some experts at 2014 International CES say in the next couple of years. Others say probably never.
Todd Grimm, president of T.A. Grimm &Associates Inc., likened the technology to bread machines: neat but not for the average consumer.
While bread machines are fun to experiment with, most people will eventually get bored and buy their bread from stores.
“I’m still not convinced there’s a killer application,” the rapid-prototyping consultant told an audience at CES.
Grimm said it’s more likely that people will purchase 3-D printed products but not create them on their own.
CEO Bre Pettis of Makerbot desktop 3-D printers offered a different view during a different panel discussion.
“When we think about wanting something, we think, ‘Where do we go to buy it?’ ” Pettis said.
He wants to change that by having a Makerbot on every desk. The printers start at $1,375.
While 3-D printers are still evolving, home models are able to create toys, jig and fixtures, as well as medical devices.
Prosthetic hands used to cost tens of thousands of dollars, but, as proven by Robohand, can now be made with a computer design and $5 in plastic, Pettis said. It’s particularly useful for children who outgrow prosthetic limbs.
Pettis said Makerbot was the only 3-D printer to show at CES five years ago, and it remained that way for a couple of years.
Today, he no longer has to explain 3-D printing, and a handful of people own or know someone who owns an at-home printer.
This year at CES, a whole row on the showroom floor was dedicated to 3-D printing.
Of the dozen or so high- and low-end 3-D printers and services at the showing, 3Doodler, a 3-D printing pen, was a crowd favorite.
The $99 device crowdfunded its initial run of 30,000 on Kickstarter last year, and though the New York City-based group asked for $30,000, it ended up with $2.3 million.
Chris Milnes, a New Jersey restaurant owner, got into 3-D printing because it made financial sense.
Milnes had invented The Helper for Square, a simple plastic piece designed to stop his Square credit-card reader from spinning, but he wasn’t sure how best to manufacture it.
He traveled to China to investigate injection molding but decided, based on cost, to buy a 3-D printer and make the part himself.
Milnes said having a 3-D printer in his home has influenced the way his children perceive possibilities.
“They have a Lego-making machine at arm’s reach,” he said.
On his son’s birthday, the boy was told he could have one toy from the toy store.
Though he wanted two, the boy decided to buy one and make the other one, a Jedi lightsaber, at home.
“It’s not hype. It’s on our doorstep,” said Conor MacCormack, co-founder and CEO of Mcor Technologies, which makes paper-based 3-D printers.
MacCormack said 3-D printing makes most sense to businesses; the challenge now is attracting the average consumer.
“That’s the market we have to go after,” he said.
Plus, Pettis added: There are still lots of bad ideas to try.