3D printing with Windows

The following is a post from Shanen Boettcher, General Manager of the Startup Business Group at Microsoft.

Remember when we said there’d be a PC on every desktop? How about this — a factory on every desktop!

Today, we announced that the Windows 8.1 update will have built-in support for 3D printing. Making a 3D object on your PC will be as easy as writing a document in Word and sending it to print. Just as desktop publishing transformed how we write, we think desktop manufacturing will transform how we create.

3D printing has been around for a while but has mainly been used by manufacturing companies – car makers, aerospace companies, toymakers, and hardware companies, including Microsoft, to make prototypes. Using big, very expensive machines, manufacturers build 3D models using a variety of materials, from plastic to metal. Recently, the popularity of 3D printing has exploded among the “maker” community – do-it-yourself hobbyists, inventors and design enthusiasts who make everything from jewelry and clothing to robotics and games. Many experts think 3D printing could help spark a manufacturing renaissance, and some market analysts predict that the global 3D printing market will reach $3.1 billion by 2016.

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But will 3D printing go mainstream? We think so – which is why we’ve built it into Windows – the world’s most popular platform. This includes all of the things you’d expect from Windows: plug-n-play support for printers, enabling apps to seamlessly submit 3D print jobs, understanding 3D file formats, and connecting lots of apps with lots of hardware to deliver an end-to-end solution for customers. We want this to be so simple that anyone can set up their own table-top factory.

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We don’t think desktop 3D printing will replace mass-production; the economics of making millions of the same object will always be more cost-effective than individual or short-run manufacturing. Instead, people will use 3D printing to make custom creations. Why settle for off-the shelf trophies for your daughter’s soccer team, when you can make unique, personalized awards? Why wait two weeks to order a small plastic part for the salad box of your refrigerator, when you can just print it at home in a few minutes? Broken hinge? Make it. New product idea? Make it.

Easier 3D printing will also revolutionize invention beyond the home. For example, Fast Company recently wrote about Enabled by Design, a nonprofit that is using 3D printing to make customized medical devices to help people with disabilities live independently. Someday, medical printers may even be able print organs needed for life-saving transplants.

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We’re excited to have leading partners across the 3D printing industry join us in making this a reality for the masses. What we’ve seen from partners like 3D Systems, Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, Formlabs, MakerBot, netfabb, Stratasys, Tiertime, Trimble and many others will be very appealing to a broad set of users and, ultimately, create a new ecosystem for Windows customers.

The prices of consumer 3D printers are dropping quickly. Staples announced that it will start selling 3D Systems’ Cube 3D printer for $1,299 at the end of June, and several companies are offering consumer-friendly 3D printers that range from $800 to $3,000. And today we announced that you can purchase the Replicator 2 from MakerBot in our Palo Alto and San Francisco Microsoft Retail stores – with availability in other locations soon. You can also use a 3D printing service like Shapeways or Sculpteo to make something and have it shipped to you or sell it online. And Staples recently announced they will be offering a 3D printing service in Europe.

As Windows 8.1 becomes available later this year, now is the time for software and hardware developers to start planning for this new capability in Windows. We have free tools available to make 3-D printing as easy as clicking File –› Print.

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So it’s time to imagine the possibilities. What are you going to make?