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The 3D printer market looks set to swell in size over the coming years, as the appeal of 3D printing builds — shifting from being the preserve of makers and hobbyists (and TC’s own John Biggs), to something that more mainstream consumers and business users feel comfortable dabbling with. But in order to get there 3D printers need to get easier to use. They need to feel more approachable to Average Joe.
One example of the consumer-focused makeovers going on in this space is the touchscreen-packing Zeus all-in-one copy machine, currently calling for funds on Kickstarter. And here’s another, in its words, “consumer-oriented” 3D printer, also seeking crowdbacking to ship a printer that doesn’t look like it wants to extrude plastic all over your settee. Zim is not as elaborate as Zeus; it’s merely a 3D printer, not a scanner and copy shop all-in-one. But less may well be more when it comes to convincing a mainstream user to try a newfangled technology.
“The use and maintenance of many 3D personal printers available on the market today requires extensive technical knowledge, as well as hours of assembly, before you can start to print your first 3D object,” argue Zim’s Stamford-based makers, Zeepro, on their Kickstarter page. “We wanted to create a 3D personal printer which was ready to use, straight out of the box.”
Zim’s consumer concessions include what its makers describes as “fully plug & play” operation (with the printing process being condensed to: connect the printer to the Internet, download a model, open the Zim app, print); a sleek-looking aluminium frame; the ability to control and view progress on the current print via a smartphone app thanks to the printer’s onboard camera (so rather than having to stand by the printer waiting to see if it’s finished making your replica plastic sphinx yet, you can check in on how it’s looking via an app); a cartridge system for easily loading different filament colours into the printer (and also refillable cartridges if you want to add your own filament).
The printer packs Ethernet and Wi-Fi — allowing it to also be remotely controlled from a computer web browser, as well as via the Zim app. Other neat tricks up Zim’s sleeve are dual extruders in its print head so multiple colours can be printed at once. Or you can use one extruder to print a water-soluble PVA plastic support material to simplify the process of printing more complex objects, as demonstrated in the video below.
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Zim can print up to 50 microns per layer. The print volume area is 205 cubic inches (5.9”x5.9”x5.9”). And at its fastest, it can print 3D objects at 110 mm/s.
What about price? The high price-tag of many 3D printers remains a huge barrier to mainstream adoption — albeit, analyst Gartner expects prices to be squeezed over the next few years as more large multinational retailers start stocking devices, helping to drive demand and trim price-tags.
Zim is being offered to early Kickstarter backers for a ‘special price’ of $599, and a ship date of March 2014. Expect the retail price to be higher — likely around the $899 mark. Zeepro’s Kickstarter campaign has raised around two-thirds of the $300,000 target so far, with 20 days left to run.