How 3D printing is inspiring a new wave of mini creators

Putting a 3D printer in kids' hands is a logical next step as this form of printing becomes more mainstream. And the demand is clearly there - the Kickstarter campaign for child-friendly 3D maker Printeer launched on June 11, and in just over a week, it met its goal of US$50,000.
June 19, 2014

It’s bright, it’s colorful and it can make a four-leaf clover in eight minutes. Meet Printeer, the 3D printer that’s shaping a new generation of toys.

Now more than ever before, kids are creating their own content and using mobile devices to do so. Last year, Common Sense Media found that children ages eight and under using smartphones and tablets at home jumped from 52% to 75% in just two years.

It was this increasingly mobile generation that inspired the team at Mission St. Manufacturing to design Printeer. The Santa Barbara-based startup built the printer specifically for a younger demographic. Made to be as simple as possible, kids don’t need to learn CAD (Computer Aided Design) to operate it. Instead, they can design and print their 3D creations using a tablet.

Putting a 3D printer in kids’ hands is a logical next step as this form of printing becomes more mainstream. And the demand is clearly there – the Kickstarter campaign for Printeer launched on June 11, and in just over a week, it met its goal of US$50,000.

Kids are the ultimate creators – numerous studies have proven their creativity outstrips that of adults, and so Mission St. Manufacturing’s goal is to help kids express that creativity through modern technology.

“If you look at the state of today’s [3D] technology and who it’s a great match for but is not being used by, to me that was kids,” said Brian Jaffe, co-founder of Mission St. Manufacturing. “You can’t go out to your garage and 3D print your own car right now, but a kid actually can go into their playroom and 3D print their own toys. The technology is absolutely at the point where it’s really relevant to the things that kids use every day.”

Jaffe is one of the co-creators of Printeer. He and long-time associate Gabe Rosenhouse founded Mission St. around Printeer. Their aim was to create a bridge between physical play and the screens on which kids spend so much time. They also want to inspire a next generation of creators, rather than consumers.

“By and large kids are given things that are already made and then told to play with them, and some of the most successful toys are toys that challenge that assumption,” said Jaffe. “Look at Lego, the most valuable toy brand in the world. It’s entirely about creation. You can follow the directions and make this awesome space ship or pirate ship, but then you’re going to inevitably tear it apart and build something that’s completely of your own design. I think that same kind of desire that kids have to be creative that Lego taps into, 3D printing taps into – it’s just coupled with using technology at the same time.”

Companies like Disney, Hasbro and Sesame Workshop are some of the latest to adapt 3D printing. Earlier this year, Hasbro has partnered with 3D Systems, a company that makes consumer and industrial 3D printers, to create toys powered by 3D printing. Sesame Street’s characters, including Mr. Snuffleupagus, are set to be 3D printed by MakerBot. It’s clear that companies are getting the message: 3D printing is here, and it’s going to affect the industry.

A recent report from Juniper Research reveals that the combined market value from consumer 3D printer hardware sales and material is expected to exceed the US$1 billion mark by 2018, compared to just over US$75 million this year. While 3D printer shipments for consumers are currently at low levels, Juniper expects them to increase significantly beyond the five-year period, with better technology and more widely available materials.

It’s a lucrative market for companies to take advantage of, and one that could be a potential game changer. Jaffe sees it as a complement to established companies, rather than a threat.

“I think the smart ones will find a way to incorporate it into what they’re already doing,” he says. “If you were to ignore 3D printing, and not acknowledge that it’s coming and it will be a part of everyday life for a lot of kids in the next decade, I think that would be a poor business decision.”

Currently, Printeer is more for amateur toy-making – it focuses on speed and simplicity rather than high-tech quality. 3D printers still have a long way to go before they can compete with popular brands like Lego, which have built up franchises far beyond building blocks.

For Mission St., the focus will be on production. Following the success of the Kickstarter campaign, the company aims to start shipping its 3D printers to backers this September. In terms of cost, the Printeer will sell for US$549 and up on Kickstarter. Going forward, the company aims to get that price down to that of a tablet.

The company is also targeting the educational market for its Printeer, as getting the 3D printer into schools means giving more kids access to the device.

“I think that so much of succeeding with technology is exposure,” said Jaffe. “That’s what 3D printing brings to education. We can make the future of manufacturing accessible to kids at a really early age. If you can make it playful and fun and engaging, then kids will learn things that will be very useful later in life, even if at the time it is just fun and games.”

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