There’s something universally appealing about the concept of a 3D printer — that concept being an automated system capable of turning computer code into real-world objects. I found myself forced to give a brief overview of the technology to AOL employees in our shared New York City office space after a particularly noisy initial run of MakerBot’s Replicator. Reactions to such explanations tend to follow a fairly standard arc, beginning with wide-eyed wonder as one attempts to wrap their brain around the idea, followed almost immediately by a list of things they’d love to print out, given a chance. This is usually coupled with questions like “can it print food?” and “can I print a car?” Both of which speak to that larger, vitally important question: “can I print anything useful?” This, in turn, speaks to another important concern: “how long until it pays for itself?”
When we received an unexpected package from the folks at MakerBot last Friday, we realized it would afford us the opportunity to field some of these questions. Though, before opening the thing, we can tell you pretty confidently that, if you’re looking for something that will “pay for itself,” that answer won’t come in a giant cardboard box with a MakerBot logo on the side. Some key questions are a little less straightforward, however, like whether or not this technology is ready for consumers — or if it’s still just the territory of enthusiasts.