At the recent CES 2012 (International Consumer Electronics) show, a company called Cubify demonstrated a 3D printer designed for the home market. 3D printing has been around for a while, used primarily as a means of creating design prototypes and aimed at the professional market but this is the first time that anyone has developed a 3D printer small and affordable enough to be used at home.
The Cubify Cube uses a plastic resin which is heated and liquefied as it travels to the print head, which then lays down layers of plastic 0.025in thick. It then lays down thousands of layers to create an object, which can be up to 5.5in cubed. Currently, the Cube can only print one colour at a time, which means that you can produce only single-colour objects at home. Larger, more complex or colourful designs can be produced by uploading your design to Cubify, who can print it for you and send it to you in the post. For smaller, simpler designs, you can simply buy and download a pattern from the Cubify website, then customize it before sending the design to the printer, which does the rest.
If you’re a bit of a creative whiz and know your way around 3D CAD packages, you can upload your own patterns, which can be downloaded and shared by others. However, it’s expected that, in the near future, even those of us with little or no design talent will be able to tailor make objects to our own specifications. The Cube is aimed at designers, artists and engineers and it’s hoped that it will appeal specifically to youngsters who want to go on and work in these fields. The idea is that they’ll be able to create prototypes to test and improve designs easily and with minimal wastage.
At around $1300 for the printer and $50 for a cartridge capable of printing 10 chess piece-sized objects, the Cube isn’t likely to appeal to casual home users just yet. However, technology tends to get more affordable and practical in a shorter space of time these days, so it may not be too long before 3D home printing becomes commonplace.
by Anthony Morgan