The 3D printer market is absolutely blowing up, with 3D printing entering the mainstream and new printer companies launching regularly. Our first 3D Printer Village at Maker Faire New York was back in 2010, and over the past three years, 3D printer enthusiast John Abella has been leading the charge for us, acting as organizer of the area. Naturally, he was also recently here at MAKE headquarters for our weekend-long 3D printer shootout (see photos from Day 1 and Day 2), testing printers for our upcoming special issue, the Make: Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing. He’s hard at work organizing the 3D Printer Village for this year’s Maker Faire New York, taking place September 29 and 30 at the New York Hall of Science. He took a moment out of his busy schedule to chat with us and lend insight into this rapidly changing landscape.
1. Take a moment to introduce yourself. What’s your background, and how did you get involved in the 3D printing scene?
I’m John Abella, and I’ve been working with 3D printers since early 2010. I originally bought one with the promise of being able to sell RepRap parts to fund the initial cost, but it was a lot harder than I think anyone anticipated. Printers were slower and less reliable, so being able to get 50+ hours of good prints to sell took a lot of work. In the end I was able to make back my initial investment a few times over, but it wasn’t easy.
2. Describe the growth you’ve witnessed over the past 3 years of organizing the 3D printer area of Maker Faire New York.
For World Maker Faire 2010 we had a group of about 15 enthusiasts, and just being able to get a printer working that could print for 20 hours througout the course of a weekend was a milestone for a lot of people. The novelty was mostly in making something new and relatively bleeding-edge work reliably.
This year we’ll have three times as many participants, and more than three times as much space. With new printers being so much more reliable and easier to use, the projects have turned more toward the interesting and innovative uses of the technology rather than just making the printer actually operate.
3. Why are there so many new 3D printer companies cropping up recently?
I think Kickstarter is a huge part of it. There have been a few really successful projects in the field, and it’s made people realize that they could be doing this kind of work for a living. Almost all of the new startups are people who have been around the field for a few years and have really learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to running these devices, so each new product is an interesting view into what those people think is imporant.
4. How has audience reaction at the Faire changed over the years as printers move their way into the popular culture?
The same questions will always come up from people who’ve never seen these devices, but for people who have seen them the questions are getting much more interesting. People are less concerned with how it works and more interested with what they can build with it. As always, I expect that kids will have the best ideas of what to print.
5. You were a huge help during our 3D printer shootout weekend here at MAKE. What was one of your biggest takeaways?
I think every single participant in the workshop was surprised by one thing or another. I’d say the biggest revelation is just how good some of the devices have gotten. We had printers going within 20 minutes and others that printed for 18 hours without a single issue. A few years ago, this would have been unheard of.
6. What new development in the field is most exciting to you?
It’s not really a new development, but every vendor is now really pushing for more finely tuned acceleration, making printing considerably faster. This is already evident in some devices that ship with acceleration enabled and can print things much faster than prior models. I expect that it’s only going to get better. One of the most common questions is always “Can it print any faster?” This year we’ve got an answer.
7. What do you love most about 3D printing and where do you predict it’s going in the next 3 years?
Right now I think the well-tuned hobbyist level printers are producing output similar to commercial machines that cost five to 10 times as much money. The key is that tuning is still complicated, owing much to the complexity of the software being used to drive the devices. I expect some incremental hardware changes in the next few years, but I expect absolutely astounding leaps in software capability. I hope we look back at the current solutions as stone-age relics sooner than later.
I’ve said it before, but I think the best part of 3D printing is how everyone comes to it with their own spin on it. Some people are interested in printing art pieces, some people use it to solve problems around their home. Others print toys for their kids, or accessories that just couldn’t exist any other way. It’s a force multiplier for creative ideas.
Come check out the latest and greatest in 3D printing at this year’s Maker Faire New York!