Once limited to some select Microsoft retail locations on the West Coast, the "MakerBot Experience" is going nationwide, announced the mammoth software company and Brooklyn-based 3D printer maker MakerBot.
Throughout the summer, Microsoft and MakerBot are installing Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printers at an additional 15 Microsoft Stores across the U.S., allowing more visitors to get some in-person, hands-on experience with the devices, which can churn out plastic objects based on 3D data.
Locations include Lenox Square in Atlanta; the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.; and Houston Galleria in Texas. Apart from the MakerBot store in New York City, Microsoft brick-and-mortar stores are the only locations "where you can purchase a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer in person and take it home the same day," announced MakerBot on its blog.
Under the expanded program, shoppers can participate in product demonstrations featuring MakerBot's Replicator 2 and the company's durable PLA Filament, the material building block of 3D printed objects produced by the device. Priced at $2,199, Replicator 2 drew huge crowds at this year's CeBIT conference in Hannover, Germany. The 3D printer can create objects as large as 11.2 inches by 6 by 6.1 inches.
After proving popular at a handful of stores, bringing the experience to more stores was the next logical step, according to MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis.
"We've seen tremendous interest and enthusiasm at the three initial 'MakerBot Experience' stores. Rolling the program out to 15 additional Microsoft Stores supercharges our mission to bring 3D printing to more people," said Pettis in a statement.
Echoing the sentiment, David McAughan, chief operating officer for Microsoft retail stores, added that the move will help consumers dip their toes into the burgeoning 3D printing ecosystem. "3D printing is a significant technological innovation, and we want all our customers to experience it first-hand, to learn how they can use and benefit from it in their own lives," he stated in company remarks.
Microsoft's retail division isn't the only business unit working to popularize 3D printing. The Windows team is also lending a hand.
The upcoming Windows 8.1 update will include built-in 3D file format recognition, plug-and-play support for printers, and hooks for applications to initiate 3D print jobs. "What we've done in Windows 8.1 is we've made this pipeline that the hardware manufactures plug in their drivers, and software manufactures can plug into things like the file-print dialogs that we're all familiar with to print documents," Microsoft's Shanen Boettcher, general manager of the Startup Business Group, said in a recent company video.
In a separate June 26 blog post, Boettcher said that creating "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."
It's also an opportunity to gain an early foothold in a growing market. He added that "some market analysts predict that the global 3D printing market will reach $3.1 billion by 2016."