A 3D printer may be able to create houses, guns and even specialty Ketchup bottle tops, but without cheap, comprehensive design software its mainstream reach will be minimal. How else will everyday enthusiasts be able to create whatever odd object they fancy? Despite the onslaught of easy-to-use, moderately priced 3D printers, simple design tools have not kept in step. But now some software firms have begun, at last, to design user-friendly products to fill the void.
Mixed Dimensions, based out of Jordan and California, is leading the way. It is not only in the final-stages of fully releasing its easy-to-use design software, MXD3D design tool, but has an end-goal to provide an all-encompassing 3D experience. It will include a design tool that runs on the browser and mobile platforms (Android and iOS), and a comprehensive marketplace for users to share and sell their creations, buy other’s objects and transfer their design to a printer. Mixed Dimensions has big plans despite its currently small outreach of 20,000 users.
Co-founders Muhannad Taslaq and Baha Abu Nojaimbeen have been building the MXD3D design tool for the past three years. It’s in private beta and will have its full launch early this summer, at which time they plan to charge a monthly or annual fee for users. The idea came from their realization that most of those coming into 3D printing are average people, not specialists. Mr Taslaq says that their program is “as easy as using a pencil and drawing on a screen.” After users draw an image on the grid using either a provided shape or the pencil tool, they click a single yellow 3D square button to stretch their image into the 3D version of itself.
Earlier this month they announced that they received almost $1m in funding, which they have dedicated to hiring US engineers to work on the element of the software that checks the printability of every user’s models.
Other companies have adopted a similar consumer-friendly focus in their software. Adobe, for example, has added 3D design tools to its Photoshop CC, which do not stray far from the program’s familiar tools. SketchUp, a 3D modeling software, touts a design program so simple that its users are said to be productive in mere hours. And Tinkercad, a division of Autodesk, doesn’t even require a software installation for it to provide its users with simple design programs while also incorporating incremental lessons.
Mixed Dimensions is also working to embed its technology onto other companies’ sites, so that firms can let customers personalize products before the business prints them. They are not alone in this endeavor. These sorts of partnerships look to be an increasingly common thread. Recently, 3D Systems, a prominent 3D printing company, began working with The Hershey Company on 3D-printed chocolate, and formed a partnership with Staples, to initiate 3D printing in its stores.
This is a smart step since, according to a recent report by Juniper Research, 3D printer sales are predicted to reach only about 1m units in the next four years. This may indicate that the public’s interest is not in owning a printer, but perhaps in designing and personalizing objects and outsourcing them to a 3D printing service. But no matter where the public chooses to print, the majority of them will want easy-to-use design software, so that they do not have to become experts in order to delve into the complex world of 3D printing.
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