Monday, May 7, 2012

Is the 3D-Printing Tipping Point Upon Us?

I've been on-and-off following the 3D printing scene since first seeing one at Siggraph about a 2000 or so. I, like many others, noted that initial price points were, like color laser printers, only suited to high-end professional use but poised to fall quickly. The implication, of course, is that eventually it hits consumer price points and then something big happens.

At that time, units costed in the neighborhood of $30k. In 2009, Makerbot introduced the cupcake at about $1000 in kit form. Makerbot's gone on to improve the products in that price range while others have taken the barebones kits even lower. Printrbot launched a Kickstarter project in late 2011 with a $544 price point for their printer in kit form.

Recently, my friend Billy launched his own design via Kickstarter, with beta kit prices at $300 plus shipping. I'm on the list for one and am excited that I can roll up my sleeves with the tech while supporting a friend's project.

Anyhow, the fall in pricing for kit-form printers certainly feels Moore's-law-esque, or something close to it. Interesting point will be when pre-built, ready-to-print devices hit the market at sub-$500. I'll go out on a limb and say: CES 2014.

Some other anecdotal indicators:

This weekend, Alisa and I went out to DC for a long weekend to check out the Art of Video Games exhibit at the Smithsonian and to do some sight-seeing. First, on the flight on the way out was a documentary about various pop-science stuff, and one segment was on 3D printing. It speculated that in the near future the corner Kinkos will have one for printing replacement parts for your air conditioner, etc.

Then, on Saturday night Alisa and I were out having dessert in Georgetown and a table of college kids there with their parents were discussing 3D printers. The interesting thing was that they were non-technical people, but clearly enthused about it ("I have no idea how it works - maybe layers of paper or something - but it ACTUALLY BUILDS PHYSICAL OBJECTS").

There's something significant about technology that captures consumer layperson interest when there still isn't clarity about what the killer app is. I don't know what it will be, but there are hints. Easy-to-use CAD apps like Tinkercad. Print-your-own-toy applications. Lots of innovation happening in the space.

If there's interest at this stage, then imagine what happens when a killer app finally does come along... BOOM. Tipping point.

Really feels like we're close to it.


Unknown said...

Know any angels Kim? I could probably hit CES 2013. :)

Protoseyewear said...

I noticed that you've written about Kickstarter campaigns, and I know this article is a bit old, but I just thought that you might be interested in ours.

We've launched our very own crowdfunding campaign for our company, Protos Eyewear, to crowdfund custom fit eyewear made via 3D printing.

It's unfortunate, but Kickstarter no longer allows eyewear, so we have to work extra hard to get the word out. And if it's okay, we would love to get your help and support in any way, shape or form. If you would like to write about our project, then please do check us out at

We would be forever grateful if you can share our project with your readers, friends, or whoever you think would be interested.

If you have any inquiries or concerns regarding our campaign, please feel free to contact me at and I'll certainly get back to you as soon as I can.