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Mattel’s New ThingMaker

February 27, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,entertainment,future — Terry Wohlers @ 06:36

I’m old enough to remember the Creepy Crawler ThingMaker of the 1960s. I did not own one, but a neighbor friend did, and we made many plastic worms and bugs with it. We had fun with the simple product, even though we were limited to the shapes available from the small molds that came with it.

Fast forward a half century to two weeks ago. At the New York Toy Fair, Mattel announced that it is introducing a new ThingMaker that takes advantage of 3D printing. Price: $299. For me, this is an exciting announcement, given that I have put considerable thought into the idea over the past two decades. I even ran it by film producer James Cameron back in 2010 and he liked it.

thingmaker

Sure wish I could take credit for the idea, but I cannot. In the 1990s, Charles (Chuck) Johnson, then with the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, shared with me a future vision of 3D printing. He imagined a child waking up on a weekend morning and going to the kitchen for breakfast. The child switches on a device and then pours dry cereal, such as Cheerios, into it. She then pours milk into a reservoir inside the device. Viewing a small display, she selects a number of digital action figures that’s available and then readies the small machine.

The 3D printer grinds the cereal into fine powder and spreads it, as a print head jets milk for binder, layer by layer. If you’ve ever spilled milk, you know that it becomes sticky as it dries. After minutes of printing, she removes the action figures from the bed of powder, brushes them off, and then eats them.

Mattel’s new ThingMaker does not work like this, but it has a chance of becoming as popular as what Johnson had envisioned so many years ago. Over the past, I’ve shared his story with many groups and most found it interesting. Perhaps the new ThingMaker, slated to become available in October, will be a stepping stone toward Johnson’s cereal printer.

Autodesk has partnered with Mattel to provide software and an easy way to create 3D content—a key to success, in my opinion. So, stay tuned. It could be the beginning of something big.