3D printing is slowly moving out of plastics and into, well, anything. MakerBot got in on the shift Tuesday at CES with the announcement of four new filaments built to mimic maple wood, limestone, iron and bronze. They will ship in late 2015.
The materials are actually composites, which means stone, metal or wood are combined with plastic to give them the ability to melt into a nice oozy goo and then solidify — important qualities if they are to run through a 3D printer. MakerBot is advertising that you can still polish or stain your finished products to make them more life-like.
We don’t yet know what the new filaments will cost (MakerBot’s spools of 2.2 pounds of material range from $48 to $130), but we do know that buyers should expect to make another purchase: more print heads. MakerBot announced three new printers at CES last year, each of which included a new feature known as the Smart Extruder that allows users to quickly pop the print head on and off. Now, we know that MakerBot is developing Smart Extruders tailored to each type of specialty filament.
Hobbyists and small startups have been tinkering with printing wood and metal for years now. It’s great to see MakerBot, which is owned by international 3D printing corporation Stratasys, pour some serious money into it. It’s obvious that people are interested in printing materials other than plastic, but bringing the million-dollar metal 3D printing machines into the home is, at this point, not only expensive but dangerous. MakerBot and the other companies behind desktop machines are demonstrating that there may be another way.