3D Printers

Mattel enters the 3D printing space

Hewlett Packard whipped up a storm when it announced its entry to the 3D printer market, but Mattel’s entry into the maker space with its consumer grade ThingMaker could be even bigger news.

Mattel is one of the biggest names in toy manufacturing. It is responsible for Barbie, Hot Wheels, WWE action figures and more. So it’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of this move.

A bold move to embrace the market

The likes of Mattel could have been forgiven for railing against 3D printing and attempting to turn back the tide of progress. Instead this can only be seen as an attempt to embrace the home model market.

Will they let people print their own versions of Mattel’s stars at home? In the end, almost certainly yes.

Mattel ThingMaker runs from an app

A solid printer at a solid price

The company unveiled the $300 printer at the New York Toy Fair trade show and it looks like a well thought out machine that works through an app it developed in partnership with Autodesk.

ThingMaker Design includes a vast array of templates and tutorials. Mattel wants the kids to learn to design from the ground up and this could be a great way for children to get started with 3D printing. If it encourages brand loyalty right through their formative years, Mattel will take that in a flash.

The idea is for children to print each PLA toy in a number of parts that connect with traditional ball and socket joints. So you get a working toy, rather than a simple statue.

The design exports wirelessly to the printer as an STL file and it can also upload an image to Google Drive, Dropbox or, potentially, a central Mattel repository. That has all the hallmarks of a young maker community.

Simple and safe

The company wanted to make it simple enough for children to download and print their own toys and that shines through in the printer design. The print bed is enclosed and the window locks shut while it’s printing. The head, meanwhile, retracts when it is not in use.

It won’t be the quickest printer on the market and each part could take from 30 minutes up to eight hours. It is a safe printer that kids can use unattended, although Mattel says it’s for people for 13 years and over.

Mattel has a clear road map in its head for introducing its star brands into the 3D printing equation. It just hasn’t shared it yet and will only say that it will launch new content soon.

Our guess is that it’s trying to feel for the tipping point, where technology catches up, people stop buying toys off the shelf and start to print their own at home. Then it is ready to embrace the market rather than fighting a rearguard action.

This is the second time around

This is something of a second coming for Mattel, which predicted this home production revolution once before. It has actually resurrected the ThingMaker name. The first one was launched in the 1960s and was a mold kit that children could pour molten plastic into.

We have come a long way since then.

“In today’s digital age, it’s more important than ever for families to transcend the digital world and make their ideas real,” said Aslan Appleman, a senior director at Mattel. “ThingMaker pushes the boundaries of imaginative play, giving families countless ways to customize their toys and let their creativity run wild.”

Deliveries won’t start until later in the year, but you can pre-order yours right now. If you want one that might be a good idea, because we’re sure there’s going to be seriously heavy demand for this.