Why One Startup Might Finally Be Changing the 3D-Printing Game

Daniel Bean
Assistant Editor

MOD-t (New Matter)

You may be wondering: How much longer am I going to hear talk about 3D printing before it actually matters to me in my regular, everyday consumer life?

Maybe about now-ish: A new and inexpensive 3D printer for the home hit the crowdfunding site Indiegogo this week. The MOD-t, as it’s called, promises to make fine-tuning designs and printing them out “as easy as Instagramming a photo.”

Not only does the MOD-t’s price ($249) break new ground for domestic 3D printing; but with its set x- and y-axis printing head and moving print platform, so do its mechanics.

Like traditional paper printers, most 3D printers feature a head that moves across the printing area. But unlike paper printers, most 3D printer heads have to travel more than just from side to side, and instead are built to move up/down (z-axis), forward/backward (y-axis), and left/right (x-axis). All these moving parts become costly to mass produce and assemble, which is why plenty of the quality 3D printers today carry price tags well into the $1,000 range.

The print head on the MOD-t, however, moves only up and down, while the print platform itself travels forward, back, left, and right. The engineering behind these moving parts has also been rethought, to do away with the need for tons of gears and dropping the cost of the device.

The patent-pending engineering design makes the MOD-t’s price affordable. And the team says its software and forthcoming marketplace of designs will make it easy and convenient to use.

MOD-t app. (New Matter)

Packaged with each unit will be an original suite of apps that allow MOD-t owners to not only send color- and size-modified designs from the online marketplace to your printer, but also to friends. Since not everyone is an expert in the AutoCAD 3D modeling software, facilitating a vibrant online store, which the company has hopes of becoming something like “Etsy-meets-iTunes,” will be paramount for “normal” people’s access to the device.

With that being said, the MOD-t will also play nicely with third-party design tools, and the company will encourage independent designers to upload their own creations to the marketplace to sell.

The MOD-t is also WiFi-ready, weights about 11 pounds, and comes in either black or white to match the other appliances or electronics in your home.

The MOD-t’s crowdsourcing campaign has kicked off with a bang, with 36 percent of its desired goal of $375,000 already met and all the $149 “Early Bird Special” MOD-t orders already spoken for. But can this finally be the 3D printer that gets the print-at-home industry over the hump? Opinions from pundits around the Web have begun funneling in, and the outlook seems mixed.

(New Matter)

A write-up by Re/code points out that New Matter, the maker of the MOD-t, isn’t the first group to try its hand at a 3D printing design marketplace, and though the price is probably the lowest we’ve seen on a device of its kind, the MOD-t still prints at a lower “resolution” than most high-quality 3D design machines, meaning that there may be less detail in your final prints.

While calling attention to the recent success of the affordable Pirate3D and Micro 3D printers, tech news site Gigaom’s coverage of the MOD-t resulted in a nod for there being “[no] better candidate for a decent entry-level 3D printer. … This is one to watch.”

TechCrunch docks the MOD-t for being a bit behind the curve in speed, quality of print, and limits in printing materials, but reckons that the device is good for the future of the industry: “Imagine these guys are Atari in 1980 and they’re coming out with their first cheap dot-matrix printer. Sure, the guys at work have a laser printer that they won’t let you use, but darned if you aren’t enjoying printing out banners and birthday cards on tractor-feed paper.”

With more than a full month to go in its campaign at the time of writing, the MOD-t team looks likely to claim all the funding necessary to deliver units this time next year and bring the device to a store (or online store) near you soon. But if you want to be ahead of the (possible) wave, visit the Indiegogo page now to pledge.

Have questions, comments, or just want to tell me something funny? Email me at danbean@yahoo-inc.com.