3D printers are getting cheaper. The space has seen a fair few attempts to drive down the price-tag of owning an additive manufacturing machine in recent years, including the likes of the MakiBox, Pirate 3D Buccaneer and The Micro.
Typically the trade off from a lower initial outlay is lower-quality print resolution, fewer features and an ungenerous print area. But the more mainstream demand for 3D printers, the cheaper and better the machines are going to get as components become more readily available, printer designs and mechanisms get optimized, and economies of scale kick in. It’s just a matter of time.
Indeed, last October Gartner said the 3D printer market had reached an inflection point, with increased consumer interest helping to drive competition and bring prices down.
And so we arrive at the latest attempt to build an affordable 3D printer: Mota, a consumer electronics company that’s previously made smartwatches and mobile accessories, reckons it’s got the chops to build something more sophisticated. The company launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier today aiming to raise $100,000 to produce the Mota 3D — with a few bargain basement units priced at a giveaway $99.
The price has now stepped up to $299, and will step up again to $499 when those pledges are bagged. The recommended retail price in North America for the Mota 3D after the crowdfunding campaign is likely to be $599. Assuming it hits its funding goal, the company is aiming to have the device in the market by October, with backers who paid the most getting it quickest.
Now unless you bagged one of the 50 loss-leading $99 units, this is by no means the cheapest 3D printer in town. The Micro, which pulled in almost $3.5 million on Kickstarter earlier this year, was priced at circa $299, for instance. However, Mota claims its machine is a better class of affordable 3D printer.
Indeed, it claims “better specs and less expensive” than MakerBot’s Replicator 2. Which had a price-tag starting at $2,199 — but that was all the way back in fall 2012. What’s clear is that the inexorable downward march of 3D printer prices continues apace.
The Mota 3D can apparently make objects up to 6.10in x 6.10in x 6.5in, using either PLA or ABS plastic filaments, with a layer resolution of 100 microns and build resolutions of 11 microns in the X and Y axes and 2.5 microns in the Z axis.
The print speed is rated at between 60mm and 120mm, and there’s an optional heated print bed (a feature that can improve print quality by reducing warping).
Price is one (very important) factor to adoption. But ease of use is arguably equally important to driving uptake. So another growing trend in the space is 3D printer makers attempting to create simplified boxes that lower the barrier to entry.
By, for instance, focusing on consumer-friendly features such as touchscreens and bundling in additional process such as object scanning and editing (in the case of Zeus’ all in one 3D copy machine, for instance). Or by zeroing in on a particular niche user and use-case, such as the Printeer 3D printer for schoolkids.
It’s not clear how much effort Mota has put into that side. Details on the 3D software it’s providing with the box are pretty thin on the ground at this point.
The company does note the printer will “work with open-source software to get you started with a library already predesigned by the 3D printing community of figures and shapes as well as the ability to create your own from scratch”. Which, unless they are radically downplaying their hand here, rather suggests it’s going to require more than average tech nous to get the most out of.
So, while the lower price of the Mota 3D will certainly draw techie buyers wanting a bargain — at the time of writing it’s already pulled in more than $31k of its $100k funding goal — if you’re after a really simple plug-and-play 3D printer this may not be the machine you’re looking for.