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David Zax

A View from David Zax

3-D Printing on a Budget

The Portabee is a portable 3-D printer that will run you just $500.

  • November 27, 2012

When you hear “3-D printing,” you probably think of advanced prototyping operations, or maybe even a factory-style floor humming with 50 industrial-scale machines (see “A Ribbon Cutting for 3-D Printing”). Yet when I tell the uninitiated about 3-D printing, they’re often thrown off. They hear the word “printer,” and they automatically assume I’m talking about the thing beneath your desk that spits out ink and paper. It takes a moment to explain that 3-D printing doesn’t typically refer to something that happens in your home–yet.

But with a new, downright affordable 3-D printer called the Portabee, 3-D printing might soon be entering the home after all. The Portabee only costs $480.  There are laser printers that cost plenty more than that.

“Enhancing some key aspects such as machine balance and axis stability gives us an edge of other existing kits,” Portabee’s Daniel Warner tells Technology Review. “Most importantly, we have made our machine portable.”

Here, have a look at Portabee in action:

The Portabee can be collapsed in a few seconds and stashed away in a laptop bag, the company says on its site. All you need to run the Portabee is a laptop power supply, a laptop, and filament material (the Portabee’s “ink,” so to speak). The device just weighs a little over six pounds. Says the company: “An artist can walk into her favourite cafe, suddenly get in a creative mood, whip out the Portabee and a laptop and start designing something and print it out, all while sipping her usual cuppa and enjoying some cheesecake.” Provided she has a very accommodating barista!

For those of you with more in-depth knowledge of 3-D printing, the company lists all the specs on its site. They include 120x120x120mm build volume, an integrated fan, and a 0.5 mm standard nozzle, among other specs. There’s some assembly required–but you’re a maker if you’re buying this, so that shouldn’t be stressful to you.

Other commentators on this site have expressed skepticism over the putative disruptive power of 3-D printing (see “Why 3-D Printing Will Go the Way of Virtual Reality”). I think that with the Portabee, 3-D printing edges closer to fulfilling one of its real missions: of empowering small businesses and the DIY community to rapidly prototype. Chris Anderson in Wired and Walter Frick in TR have made the case that 3-D printing is really about small-batch operations (see: “The Future of 3-D Printing Depends on Hipsters”). And what could be smaller batch than a consumer with a laptop and an idea?

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