Three-dimensional printing technology is becoming more accessible to large design firms and research institutions. Now, consumers want a piece of the action. Enter the Micro, the latest 3D printer to vie for a spot in home workshops, alongside desktop printers such as the MakerBot Replicator 2 and Formlabs’ Form 1. The Micro’s creators launched it on the virtual crowdfunding platform Kickstarter on April 7. In just 11 minutes, it met its $50,000 funding goal. Since then, the Bethesda, Md.–based team behind the lightweight, cube-shaped machine has raised more than $2.7 million—with 22 days to go in the campaign.
The Micro ranks fifth on the list of Kickstarter projects to raise $1 million the fastest, doing so in just 25 hours, reportsTech Crunch. That puts the printer ahead of products such as the Pebble smart watch, which in May 2012 topped $1 million in 27 hours. (In case you’re wondering, the top spot is claimed by The Veronica Mars Movie Project, which raised its first million in four hours and $5.7 million by the campaign’s end.) Other 3D printers to find Kickstarter success include The Buccaneer (which raised $1.4 million in June 2013), the pro-focused Form 1 ($2.9 million in October 2012), and the desktop Deltaprintr ($236,451 in January 2014).
While a successful crowdfunding campaign can’t guarantee success in the market, garnering supporters willing to back the idea with cash in exchange for first dibs on a product or service helps the idea gain traction while lowering other barriers to entry for the manufacturer such as production costs.
“We thought it was important for us to let the community tell us what they wanted through their backing and to validate what we thought they would like before making thousands of them,” said Michael Armani, co-founder of the Micro’s parent, M3D, in an email.
That’s especially helpful in the burgeoning market for low-cost 3D printing technology, which is asked to address consumer demands for equipment that is easy to use while creating high-quality parts and prototypes. And though the Micro is not the only consumer-oriented 3D printer on the market, it makes a suite of promises that could give it an edge—at the top of the list, the $299 price-point for some of its Kickstarter backers, though the team expects to set a higher retail price following the campaign.
Other specs include its weight (2.2 pounds) and compact form (a 7.3-inch cube). The printing apparatus moves along carbon fiber rods while the print head is fitted with a sensor to auto-level and calibrate. A ceramic heater allows the filament to heat rapidly and consistently and replaceable print beds accommodate alternative materials. The system uses spools of 1.75mm PLA or ABS filament, but M3D is also fabricating is own microfilament to allow for more color options. The filament can be fed from a compartment inset below the 109mm-by-113mm print bed or externally.
The printer connects to a computer via USB, through which users can generate and modify 3D models using the company’s touchscreen-capable modeling software. The system can also be run on open-source software.
“Our goal … is to make it so intuitive, even those that have never heard of 3D printing before could put it on their desk and be printing right away,” said M3D co-founder David Jones. “Just download the software, choose the model that interests you, and hit print.”
The perceived ease has generated support from a diverse group including students, hobbyists, jewelry designers, entrepreneurs, and engineers, the pair said. Science education and automation are also potential uses.
“Making the technology accessible to so many people gives them the power to surprise us,” Armani said.
The team anticipates it will begin fulfilling orders placed via Kickstarter in early 2015.