Amongst other surprises at CES this year, young 3-D printing company Cubify took home the Best Emerging Tech award for their second-generation printer, the CubeX. Launched only a year after their first machine, the CubeX and its little brother, the Cube, sell at a significantly lower cost than competitors and are geared toward kids, artists, and other consumers who might not have a ton of experience with the technology. They’re your mother’s 3-D printer--and I mean that in a very good way.
The irony behind their friendly, primary-colored marketing materials is that Cubify is actually the consumer brand of the first 3-D printing company ever: 3D Systems, a 30-year-old company founded by inventor Chuck Hull. Hull patented the first 3-D printer (he called it a stereolithography apparatus) in 1983. He was responsible for everything from developing the .STL file format to engineering the chemical makeup of the material. As CTO of 3D Systems, he’s found a way to advocate for the democratization of a technology he invented.
It took nearly three decades for Hull to bring the Cube to market, and he’s done so in a very deliberate way. In addition to a personal printer that costs less than $1,300, Cubify runs a cloud printing service, an e-commerce site where you can buy items, and recently launched an open API for developers who want to build Cubify-based web apps. It’s a pretty big enterprise, marketed in punchy colors and language like “plug-in easy” and “coloring-book simple.” It’s the down-to-earth cousin of geek-hipster MakerBot.
I got in touch with Cubify’s Alyssa Reichental to ask about the company’s idea of what 3-D printing will look like down the road. According to her, a combination of cloud printing and at-home printing is more likely than ubiquitous personal printers. “We think that cloud printing will continue to be a staple as well,” she says. “For example, a local garage might print your car parts.” Another big part of the company’s mission is to enable more small businesses. “It’s a great way to build your business,” she adds. “Since it’s on-demand, there’s no inventory. It’s a zero-waste model.”
Cubify’s goal isn’t to predict the future of the technology or be first-to-market. It wants to get cheap, dependable 3-D printers into as many homes and businesses as possible--then see what happens.
Check out the Cube, which starts at $1,299, here.