3D Printers are now beginning to enter the home as developers are setting their eyes on the consumer market.
The printers, which have been extensively covered on ATE, allow users the ability to create tools, accessories, gifts, models, and pretty much whatever their imagination comes up with in the comfort of their own home.
Using a process called additive manufacturing, a user can make any 3D object they choose.
Printers that are capable of making simple items such as keychains, board game pieces, and other small accessories are selling for as little as $350.
According to the companies making the printers, the attention on the consumer market has been rewarded with soaring sales and stock prices.
"The consumer segment in the next few years will potentially devour everything else that we do," said Abe Reichental, chief executive of 3D Systems Corp, the biggest listed U.S. 3D printer maker.
Shares at the company have doubled since it released its first printer for home use, The Cube 3D, at the start of the year. Rival Stratasys has also seen its shares double since the start of the year to around $65 as investors begin to smell the start of the 3D printing revolution.
MakerBot, which released its plug-and-play 3D printer The Replicator for just short of $2,000 at the start of the year is facing a problem of too much demand.
"We expected our orders to double from our previous machine, Thing-A-Matic, and instead orders quadrupled," CEO Bre Pettis said.
The company said it has shipped 13,000 printers since starting up in 2009.
Research firm Wohlers Associates says that around 80,000 printers have been sold in the US since 2007.
"If someone develops a very inexpensive and safe 3D printer for children, then I could envision maybe more than half of homes having 3D printers in them, as a toy," said Wohlers President Terry Wohlers.
People are already using the printers to make toys and other objects, including Star Wars battle cruisers or Lego.
Tom Nardone, a marketing company CEO who bought a MakerBot, believes toys are going to be part of the future of 3D Printing.
"Some company will launch this device and it'll be $199 and your kids will be begging you to buy them."
Other users are downloading designs from the internet for objects like jewelry, lamp shades, back scratchers, and much more. 3D Systems own their own online design platform, Cubify, which works like Apple’s iTunes.
Makerbot has taken a different approach and is releasing both its software and designs as open source on its Thingiverse online platform.
Copyright issues will undoubtedly become an issue as 3D printers take off. The Pirate Bay launched a new segment for their website earlier in the year, allowing users to pirate real objects and print them off on their 3D printers.