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Enterprise and consumer demand to skyrocket as 3D printing hits mainstream

An out-of-the-box 3D printer today went on sale at UK retailers Currys and PC World. 3D Systems' Cube is the only 3D printer certified for safe use at home, and is designed specifically with non-technical users in mind. The Cube is sold at a retail price of £1,195.

Other pre-assembled and consumer-oriented 3D printers, such as the MakerBot Replicator 2, have been sold for similar prices in the past, and the Solidoodle 3D printer has even retailed at little over £300, but the Cube is the first out-of-the-box 3D printer to have been picked up by the major players.

"The plug-in and play simplicity allows anyone using the Cube to start 3D printing as soon as they take it out of the box," said Currys. The high street firm is also touting the printer's Wi-Fi capability, "allowing users to send prints straight from the computer without fuss."

The printer is capable of printing objects up to 14cm in size in every dimension, and uses cartridges of "recyclable and compostable plastics" that each cost £52.80. Cartridges come in 16 different colours, from garish to neutral, including metallic silver and "glow in the dark", and the chassis of the machine itself also comes in different colour schemes. Buyers can currently choose between blue, green, white, silver and pink models.

Initial reviews of the Cube have been lukewarm, citing restrictive software and over-simplification as potential problems. The printer doesn't come packaged with creation software, so if you want to create your own models, that's another expense. Cubify invent, at $49 (£30), and Cubify Sculpt, at $129 (£80), offer a two-tier approach to design for amateurs and professionals respectively.

Still, features like the removable build platform and the sleek design of the machine itself have garnered praise from critics.

Currys and PC World, both owned by Dixons Retail plc., are thought to have become interested in the market for 3D printing after competitor Maplin stocked the Velleman K8200 3D printer in kit form earlier this year. The Velleman is aimed at tech-savvy enthusiasts, and the involved assembly process was thought to have been unsuitable for casual consumers.

There are other factors in play, too. Industry analysts Gartner today released a report anticipating a sharp and exponential growth in the market for 3D printers. The report suggests "Rapid quality and performance innovations across all 3DP technologies will drive enterprise and consumer demand." It predicts a growth in the market of 49 per cent in 2013, and a further growth of 75 per cent in 2014, "followed by a near doubling of unit shipments in 2015."

It remains to be seen whether or not the UK retail firms' early-birdism will yield results. What we can say for sure is that as of today, consumer 3D printing has well and truly entered the mainstream.

Image: Flickr (donjd2)