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MakerBot Brings 3D Printing To The Masses

CES 2014 Las Vegas – 3D printing trend-setter MakerBot literally unboxed its broadest lineup of 3D printers in its history — a small entry-level consumer model, a medium prosumer model and a large pro model.

Also announced were new desktop software, mobile apps and a MakerBot Digital Store where consumers can download 3D schematics for dozens of small predesigned characters to 3D print at home.

All three models, the MakerBot Replicator Mini ($1,375, spring), the fifth-generation MakerBot Replicator desktop printer ($2,899, available now) and the large MakerBot Replicator Z18 ($6,499, spring) add an internal camera that allows the user to monitor the 3D printing progress and to share images of the layer-by-layer build on social media.

 The two larger units include a 3.5-inch color LCD screen with access to control and setup features.

A partnership with 3D sensor maker Softkinetic, with an aim to one day develop a 3D camera, has been inked.

The company also has expanded its small retail presence from its original outlet in Manhattan, opening new MakerBot stores in Boston and Greenwich, Conn.

Currently, MakerBot printers are not sold in any independent brick-and-mortar retailer, and there are no plans to expand the company’s physical retail presence beyond its own stores and online outlets such as Amazon, according to company founder Bre Pettis. Despite all the hullabaloo surrounding 3D printing, the company has sold just slightly more than 44,000 MakerBot 3D printers.

However, there are 218,000-plus digital designs generated by MakerBot’s Thingiverse community, resulting in upward of 48 million “things” — schematics for 3D objects to be printed — downloaded.

In its attempt to widen its hobbyist and create a more mainstream consumer base, Pettis unveiled the one-touch MakerBot Replicator Mini compact 3D Printer, which Pettis dubbed a “point-and-shoot 3D printer.” About the size of a backpack, the Mini opens at both the front and the top for filament replacement. As with all MakerBot printers, the Mini connects via USB or Wi-Fi to a PC.

In the middle of the new lineup is the fifth generation MakerBot Replicator desktop 3D printer, which features a 456 cubic-inch build area.

At the pro hobbyist end is the giant MakerBot Replicator Z18, capable of printing 12- by 12- by 18-inch tall objects in 2,592 cubic inches of build space. On view at MakerBot’s CES event was an ornate samurai helmet printed by the Z18.

The Z18 includes all of the attributes of the Replicator, plus a heated build chamber so larger objects will remain stable and solid during the printing process. Users also can print multiple smaller items in the Z18 simultaneously.

MakerBot’s first all-encompassing creation and organization desktop application for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux which will be available free next month. Pettis also announced an improved MakerBot Mobile app to remotely monitor printing progress, receive alerts when done or for filament replacement of Thingiverse activity. The app will free, available in the spring for iOS and later for Android.

A tablet-centric MakerBot Printshop design tool will be available on the same schedule and will be “a fun, easy and free way to create and 3D print all kinds of cool things,” according to Pettis, starting with 3D alpha numeric signs, letters and name plates. “All you have to do is know how to type,” Pettis stressed. It includes an easy bracelet maker and a growing number of curated kid-friendly, ready-to-print design files from the Thingiverse community.

The new MakerBot Digital Store allows consumers to purchase files to 3D print individual characters or objects for 99 cents.