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Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  A 3D printer that makes toy making into child’s play

American toymaker Mattel has come up with a 3D printer, called Thingmaker 3D printer, which allows users to print and create their own toys made of plastic. One can pick any character in the Thingmaker library, customise them, if they wish to, and create their own toy at home. The 3D printer will be available in the US at $299 ( 20,357 approx) on Amazon.com. There is an accompanying smartphone app (Android and iOS) for using the printer which can be downloaded for free.

The big idea

Thingmaker was a popular make-and-play toy series introduced by Mattel in the 1960s which allowed buyers to create their own toys by pouring liquid plastic over special moulds. The mould was heated and then cooled to give the toys a final shape. It was quite popular with users. Mattel is trying to bring the old concept back into play with the use of the modern 3D printing technology this time.

How it works

To access the 3D printer, the user needs the Thingmaker Design app. It is available on Google Play store and the Apple App store right away. The app not only stocks all the Thingmaker toy templates that one can print on the 3D printer but is an interface for using the printer itself. User can make changes in the templates, if they want, and give a print command from the app.

Since the 3D printer supports online printing, one can order a print from anywhere in the house provided the printer and the device are on the same Wi-Fi network.

The templates for Thingmaker library has been developed by 3D design experts at Autodesk, a software company better known for AutoCad productivity tools.

What makes the Thingmaker’s printer an interesting option is that it’s specifically made for toy-making and designed in such a way that it can be used at home safely. It automatically locks the printer door while the printer is in use, to prevent burn injuries to children who may not know the dangers of a gadget in operation.

The fact that it is available at $299 only makes it also one of the most affordable 3D printers. Most affordable 3D printers cost upward of $399 and the cheapest one available in India right now costs 95,000 by VAMAA.

Key concerns

While the 3D printers can print some really cool toys, they pose a certain amount of health risk. A study published in Environmental Science and Technology earlier this month shows the process of heating and burning the plastic emits a harmful chemical called styrene. Though the printer auto locks the door to prevent heat emissions but we are not sure if it can be equally effective against chemical emissions seeping out into the air.

What is going to be a bigger challenge is the amount of time a 3D printer takes to print an object—close to 6 to 7 hours to print even a small toy.

Then comes the total cost of ownership. While the initial investment may seem low, the other expenses will be much higher as a 3D printer consumes more power than an average printer. An ordinary 3D printer uses about 140W of power at a time while printing. The plastic tapes used to make the toys will also be an additional cost, though those prices have not been announced yet.

The sheer idea of making your own toys is extremely exciting, but the options on the Thingmaker are pretty limited for users at present. Right now there are toys such as dinosaurs, bracelets, dolls and robots, but we expect more additions to the Thingmaker library over time.

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