The Makerbot Replicator Mini Compact 3D printer may not be quite ready for acceptance by Star Fleet, but for the earthbound, the company has started taking pre-orders for its smallest and most affordable 3D printer.
The Makerbot Mini 3D printer was introduced this January at the 2014 International CES and is intended to be the company's first strong foray into the home, small office and classroom. Initial pricing is $1,375 and the company is now taking orders. It expects to make delivery this spring. The printer will only be available direct from Makerbot or from one of its three retail outlets located in New York, Boston and Greenwich, Conn.
The company sees the Mini as the start of a long line of consumer friendly devices intended to bring 3D printing to the masses.
"Reflecting on the future of our products, I imagine a lot of them will look like the MakerBot Replicator Mini," said Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot. "We've been working hard for years to make 3D printing easy; now, with the MakerBot Replicator Mini, it is easy. We view the MakerBot Replicator Mini as a versatile and tidy 3D printer that can fit almost anywhere - up at the Space Station, at an elite institution, or in a preschool."
The device, which uses Makerbot's fifth generation printing technology, has a maximum build volume of 3.9-inches long by 3.9-inches wide and 4.9-inches high, for at total of about 75-cubic inches. It is capable of creating devices with a 200-micron layer resolution in 17 different colors. Makerbot is focusing on the Mini's plug and play aspect, stating that it is simpler to operate than its earlier models. Customers can gain access to Makerbot's library of 218,000 3D designs that it offers through its online library called Thingverse.
The printer has an on-board camera and Wi-Fi connectivity and can be used directly with Makerbot's Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner. The latter allows users to scan in objects they wish to replicate.
While 3D printing is still in its infancy, analysts see a future for this science-fiction level technology. IDC is forecasting 3D printer shipments to grow about 10 times between now and 2017. This will be expedited as larger print manufactures like Hewlett-Packard and Epson more fully move into a field now dominated by smaller companies.
The research firm Gartner sees a quick movement by 3D printers into retail with 50 of the largest multinational retailers selling 3D printers by 2015.