3D printers in offices: a must have or a nice to have?

The hype and excitement around 3D printing hasn’t slowed down in the past few years and it’s not showing signs of easing off anytime soon. Some experts say that every household will have a desktop 3D printer in the next ten years. But before they end up in everyone’s home, we will probably see these machines in 3D printing shops, cafes, and offices.

When Developing Dreams started working with Emilia Telese and 3Dify on Break the Mould – a 3D scanning and printing art installation – we had to find a studio space quickly to build the installation and house our 3D printers.

We needed a high ceiling and lots of space as our sculpture around the body scanner was going to be a pregnant woman. The idea behind it was to let people experience the sensation of being back in the womb by entering the sculpture, getting a 3D image of themselves and then watching themselves being ‘reborn’ on a 3D printer.

Co-working spaces

The vibrant co-working space The Skiff in the trendy North Laines in Brighton, where some of our team was based, wasn’t big enough for our undertaking. But the working atmosphere is brilliant and there is a real blend of people from all walks of life within the digital and creative industries – most of the people there are freelancers or small companies.

A couple of clever software engineers there are already looking at buying a 3D printer to play around with and it’s the perfect office space for it. There is a great sense of community in this place – people help each other out with advice and make referrals to each other. Here is a brilliant infographic that captures The Skiff in facts and figures:

The Skiff infographic
See full infographic, designed by Puree Design

Serviced office spaces

We had a look at a few other studio and office options, including a great old Gothic building, which is on my school run (perfect location!) and has lovely private office spaces run by Flexioffices. I could imagine having a desktop 3D printer or two if not more in this building, too. There are quite a few companies based in there that might find it handy to 3D print prototypes of their new products there and then rather than have to wait several days for it to get delivered from a 3D print bureau.

Ditchling Road, Flexioffices, Brighton
Citibase, Ditchling Road, Flexioffices, Brighton

Business incubators

When WiredSussex, who we are members of, announced the launch of the FuseBox in New England House, Brighton, we thought immediately that this might be a great spot to bring our Break the Mould project to life. It is coined as an incubation centre for the arts and digital start-ups. It is funded by the EU that subsidises the rent of the office/studio space and offers mentoring and other support (including a fast coffee machine which is crucial when you come in and don’t have time to wake up first thing in the morning!).

This is where our two Ultimakers still live even though not for much longer as we will have to move out to make space for new start-ups.

Which desktop 3D printer would be most suited to an office space?

The two main desktop 3D printers currently on the market are MakerBot and Ultimaker. Ultimaker probably offers the best open source 3D printers to date. In November 2012, Make Magazine named them the fastest and most accurate desktop 3D printer. It’s like winning the Olympics of 3D printing. In 2013, MakerBot’s Relicator 2 took over the title in the category ‘Best in class for Prosumers’. However, Ultimaker 2 kept the lead in ‘Best Open-Architecture’.

When you look at the technical specifications, there is a clear winner so far according to Guillermo Acilu: Ultimaker 2 can create objects up to a 50% bigger in volume than the MakerBot Replicator 2 and also with a higher precision. Both cost approximately £1500.

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