MakerBot, an early supporter of Microsoft's plan to add 3D printing support to Windows 8.1, is touting a new driver that streamlines the process of turning on-screen 3D models into physical objects users can hold in their hands.
The Brooklyn-based provider of 3D printers and scanners released its MakerBot 3D Printer Driver for Windows 8.1, which is available as part of the company's MakerWare software suite. According to MakerBot, the driver, in conjunction with the latest version of Microsoft's flagship operating system, makes it as simple to produce 3D printed objects as it is to churn out paper documents.
"With Windows 8.1 and using the new MakerBot 3D Printer Driver, users can open a 3D design in a program like 123D Design or SolidWorks, and tell the file to print directly to a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer; it's as fast and easy as printing a Word document on a 2D printer," boasted the company in a statement.
MakerBot collaborated with Microsoft to help bring the technology to market. "We have been working closely with Microsoft to prepare the printer driver to provide the familiar plug-and-play capabilities of Windows with the MakerBot Replicator 2," said CEO Bre Pettis in a statement.
He added that the driver-OS combo "rounds out even more of the MakerBot 3D Ecosystem that is designed to make 3D design and printing super easy and accessible." His company's ecosystem now includes the Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner. The hardware, Pettis asserts, gives 3D printing enthusiasts a "jumpstart on the design process because users don't need to start from scratch."
MakerBot also announced an ambitious crowdfunding plan to get a 3D printer in every school. In a statement, the company said it is "is eager to do its part to educate today's students, who are the next generation of innovative makers, engineers, product designers, architects and artists, who could benefit from having 3D printing technology in the classroom."
Microsoft, no stranger to classroom IT, or IT in general, could help further streamline the technology.
"Many 3D printing customers use Windows as their platform for design and 3D printing," noted Shanen Boettcher, general manager of the Microsoft Startup Business Group, in a statement. "It is a natural progression for Windows to offer native 3D printing capabilities right from the Windows platform."
In the months leading up to the Oct. 17 release of Windows 8.1, Microsoft announced that it was including 3D printer and file format support to the OS update. Envisioning "a factory on every desktop," Boettcher said in a June 26 blog post 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."
Bringing 3D printing into the mainstream is also a market opportunity. "Some market analysts predict that the global 3D printing market will reach $3.1 billion by 2016," Boettcher stated.