His company, for example, has purchased a software firm called Hypr3D that does what the aforementioned Autodesk app does, creating printable models from digital images and video. It has also started up a web site, cubify.com, where you can upload and download printable files. It's sort of the commercial version of Thingiverse.com, which is totally open-source and community-based.
Heck, you don't even need a 3D printer of your own to start printing out your designs. You can just go to Shapeways.com, upload a design, and have them ship you the print. They have thousands and thousands of designs uploaded by people around the globe that you can buy for them to print on demand and ship to you the next day. Want that bracelet, but in a different color? Change the color and print. Want it with your name on it? Type in the letters and print. Bigger? Smaller? Thinner? No problem. There are no limitations on inventory or supply.
Boisvert at the Maine FabLab thinks this customization will ultimately drive 3D printing in general.
"I really don't see in the future that everyone will have a 3D printer on their kitchen counter," she says, disagreeing with some hyperbolic pundits. "There are lots of people with gorgeous kitchens who don't cook. We have unbelievable machines for cooking, but you have to be inclined to do it."
However, those who do love cooking are the people who are driving all those cooking shows in the desire to make exactly what they want.
MAKE YOUR OWN Differential gear system.
Similarly, says Boisvert, "What motivates makers is making something that you can't get anywhere else. It's making things for your friends . . . When you do one-offs in a full production line, it's too expensive. In America, there's that real desire to be special and exclusive and to have something that nobody else has."
Ackerman at Engine also thinks 3D printing and the FabLab can be an economic kick in the pants for Maine. "There's nothing that says people can't come in here and develop the next best mousetrap," she says, now that barriers of cost have been eliminated. "There's the ability to be entrepreneurial and create opportunity for themselves."
There, she and Bre Pettis, founder of MakerBot, are in agreement. 3D printing is actually an "alternative to consumerism," Pettis says. Rather than going shopping for what you need, you make it. Essentially, he says, "our mission at MakerBot is to democratize manufacturing." And Pettis doesn't think the kitchen counter is where all the 3D printers will live: "I think it's more likely your kid will have one on their desk to do their homework with."
But we're not there yet. Those consumer 3D printers are still very slow. It might take half an hour to print out one chess piece or one part for that cool robot you've designed. People flocking to the FabLab when it opens will find they'll have to wait in line if they think they're going to print out all the parts to their new cool thingamabob.
"There's a tremendous amount of hype," Boisvert acknowledges. "The press sometimes acts like it's Star Trek here today and we're really not even close." Yes, people are absolutely designing and printing out prostheses for amputees. Yes, it's revolutionizing the way people are bringing new products to market. Yes, high-end printers can even print out things with moving parts that emerge whole from the printer.