"The philosophy of open access and open source is really interesting when you have a town like Biddeford where there are some challenges in terms of education and income," Ackerman says. "In my wildest dreams, I envision a kid from a more challenged part of the community working with a kid from maybe a private school. I hope it creates that dialog and breaks downs some of those prejudices that we have."
Which has, of course, been the goal of just about every non-profit arts institution since the beginning of non-profit arts institutions.
But, the thing is, 3D printing is wicked fucking cool and, after decades of fits and starts, it might actually be ready to hit the mainstream. Have you seen that video for will.i.am and Britney's "Scream & Shout"? Well, okay, probably not. But 133 million people have, and one of the primary recurring themes is a 3D printer printing out will.i.am's head. You know that annoying comic Jeff Dunham who uses the dummies? He prints out replacement parts for them when they break. A large software company called Autodesk has released a free app called 123D Catch that allows you to create printable models of anything just by uploading a bunch of pictures you take with your phone.
President Obama mentioned 3D printing in his State of the Union address last month. SXSW will have a session on 3D printing next weekend.
And of course, a company called the New York Toy Collective will scan your private parts and 3D print them as sex toys. For real.
Plus, for the first time, the big 3D printing companies actually think there's money to be made in the consumer market. For decades 3D Systems, for example, has focused on the industrial market, creating very expensive machines that manufacturers use to prototype products and parts. Before they set up a whole manufacturing line, they print out a couple to make sure they do what they're supposed to do.
Last year, though, 3D Systems released something called the Cube (that's what the Maine FabLab will start out with). It's about the size of one of those K-cup coffee makers and lets you print out things about the size of a coffee cup. And it only costs about $1300. The latest MakerBot product, the Replicator, which can make things about twice as big, costs $1800 or so for the bare-bones model. The plastic used in basic printers costs maybe $50 a kilogram (it's a commodity and the price fluctuates) and a small print might cost you $1.
That has people predicting imminent mass adoption.
3D Systems' CEO, Abe Reichental, likes to talk big picture. "We are in a historical moment here," he says. "Many external and internal forces are favorably conspiring to create something really new and exciting." He sees a world where no one would think of going to a store and buying a case for an iPhone or a bracelet or new flatware for the house. Why would you when you could just print those things out?
"In the world of the future," Reichental says, 3D printing "will become democratized and available to anyone."