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    The Fall of Lego... 3D Printing?


    Anybody who buys LEGO sets and bricks daydreams about a future in which one does not need to go to the store to obtain them. There will be no need to waste a half an hour or more in time and several dollars in gas from the drive going to their destination, not to mention wear and tear on the vehicle. Not only that, but the time wasted being in the store and having to wait in long lines will be saved. In addition, there is a possibility that after all the wasted time, gas and effort, the retailer you are seeking this product from will not have what you seek. What's a consumer to do? Well, the first idea that comes to mind is Amazon.com. This online giant retailer will enable you to order tens of thousands of products from the comfort of your home and have it delivered to your doorstep in one day. But what's a person to do if the product is not available once again or is too expensive to ship or too fragile? I have a better solution...let's take a look.

    Yes, now with the advent of the internet that Al Gore created for us… people can forego those antiquated procedures of trekking to a store and actually conversing with people. The ultimate solution comes straight out of Gene Roddenberry's imagination, into your screen via Star Trek, and what looks to be soon, straight into your home! I am speaking of the Star Trek Replicator...

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    The Star Trek Replicator has already become a reality through 3-D Printers. According to the website Wikipedia, a 3-D Printer/Printing is :

    ...a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. 3-D printing is considered distinct from traditional machining techniques which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling (subtractive processes).

    3-D printing is usually performed by a materials printer using digital technology. Since the start of the twenty-first century there has been a large growth in the sales of these machines, and their price has dropped substantially.[2]

    The technology is used in jewelry, footwear, industrial design, architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education, geographic information systems, civil engineering, and many other fields.

    The most well known 3-D Printer that has attracted mainstream media attention over the years is the MakerBot, founded roughly four years ago in 2009 by Adam Mayer, Zach Smith and Bre Pettis.

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    While mostly used by hobbyists, a few are trying to make money through producing small goods, like bottle cap openers and other small knickknacks. It is looked at as the beginning of what is to come. The MakerBot produces products in acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polylactic acid (PLA), and polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). ABS plastic is of paramount importance for our discussion because that is what LEGO bricks are made of.

    The newest incarnation from MakerBot goes by the name of The Replicator 2X, the same name used in Star Trek and goes for around $2,800.00. The Replicator 2X can produce objects in two colors and has taken over the 3-D Printing market since competitor 3-D printers, like the Thing-o-Matic, have been been discontinued. An even newer version, the CubeX, can print in three colors and goes for around $4,000.00. Even for those that lack the skill to be able to create their own products, MakerBot has a vast community made up of fellow hobbyists who create and share their designs for others to produce.

    Other 3-D Printers exist and have even been shown on such popular shows such as This Old House. The $70,000 ZPrinter 650, by the Z Corporation, is one such example. To see what the future holds, watch this YouTube video segment from the show...

    Like most revolutionary gadgets, their prices may be high to start and their processes slow, but in the next 10 to 20 years these gadgets should be able to produce detailed goods right in your home, at an affordable price. So what does this mean to LEGO investors and collectors? To the LEGO investor, it could mean that your retired sets will be valued at the level of vinyl records in today's age of digital music. There will still be a value in rare and vintage LEGO sets, but a decrease in your investment is a possibility. Why? Because LEGO fans will be able to easily reproduce an iconic set like the 10179 Millennium Falcon in their own parts, so why buy an old and expensive version...the box? Why buy a new LEGO set if you can reproduce them in your basement? This can lead to a possible demise of The LEGO Group itself.

    Unfortunately for LEGO investors, your plastic brick empire will be the first to fall from the earliest mainstream 3-D Printing boom, compared to normal action figures which will fall in later upgrades, due to their simplistic shape and design. The days of making money off of “parting” brick pieces will be history due to the ease of printing whatever you need on a whim, and great for parents who deem LEGO an expensive toy for little Johnny or Jane! Free sourced data files by like minded tech savvies who deem the product too expensive will do to LEGO what many did to the music industry by sharing songs through file-sharing sites such as Napster founded by Sean Parker, Shawn Fanning, and John Fanning.

    Who will need LEGO to produce bricks when you will be able to produce them cheaply yourself? Bigger sets. More creative sets. Cheaper sets. New colors. How about special bricks that MOCers have wanted LEGO to make for years, but have not had their wish granted? They can make their own “custom” LEGO bricks now. Not only that, the aftermarket MOC instruction business will explode with large and creative models that were only obtainable to a lucky few LEGO Master Builders years earlier. Some of the large CUUSOO models that were not approved because they were too big and pricey will be built by LEGO fans at reasonable prices.

    Companies(...and not just toy companies like LEGO) will try to fight off 3-D Printers by slashing down their prices on their products to no avail. Companies will threaten lawsuits about patent infringement, but how can you stop people producing bricks in basements? Want to build a set from 2013? Want to build an exclusive or a new set from 2023 to 2033? No problem, just go on to one of the many Lego fan sites which will have instruction manuals for the vast majority of sets. The new cost of a LEGO brick will be the cost of the raw materials and some electricity to run the machine. No shipping, no gas, and the ability to have instant gratification! Century old companies will cling to lawsuits for survival and have sites taken down that have their patents. But the internet is too vast to stop the inevitability of these businesses going the way of the dinosaur. Beam me up, Scotty!

    References:
    1. "3D Printer Technology — Animation of layering". Create It Real. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
    2. Sherman, Lilli Manolis. "3D Printers Lead Growth of Rapid Prototyping (Plastics Technology, August 2004)". Retrieved 2012-01-31.

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    What is the speed of these printers? Expected speed in the future? I'm not sure how many will want to make 2000+ lego pieces for a Haunted House, for example.

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    It would cost a fortune though to replicate even a small like 300 piece set could take a few days and losts of material in the end it will cost you more. It would be nice though to get pieces or things you couldn't get your hands on before. The qaulity is just not there yet to produce now but maybe in the future we will see a great increase in quality of print. It is not cost effective as of this time but in the future very possible. Great topic.

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    Lego will just adapt and sell the official encrypted blueprints for a one time software license fee like eBooks now. Boxed, sealed, mint sets will always retain and increase in their value. Especially when they are taken off of the market as a sealed box purchase option. The market price will increase for unopened boxes because the market will then cater to must have collectors rather than kid's moms that are looking for a hard to find item for Billy. I do agree that the loose value will drop to nothing though. Nice article!

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    Other complications I can think of.... Instruction manuals... you may be allowed to "print" bricks legally but I see copyright issues with printing instruction manuals. Quality... Lego quality is unsurpassed, both in the bricks and in the detail of the instructions. It is this quality that makes Lego the leader. I can't see these printers making the same quality as the equipment Lego is using now. Will a piece made today fit a piece from 30 years ago? Real Lego products do.

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    This concept was in an episode of the Big Bang Theory and the expense of the machine and the time to make the copy were issues brought up and one I agree would not threaten the Lego brand.

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    Guest skfdlty

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    Though I would like make my own bricks, it would no doubt kill the Lego market. I am sure that scamming Lego investors is not the top priority of people who want to scam customers.

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    I first saw 3-D printing in 1996 when a young company demo'ed it at our brokerage firm. I still have the Chess pawn piece they made for me, it is about 2 inches high and took over an hour. They could only do one translucent yellowish color and it was used mainly for prototyping parts for cars. The pawn piece cost about $250 to make. I believe it will happen, that the time will come when you can cheaply created 3-D objects in plastic, but we are still a couple decades away from it being economical for hobby use (unless there is some revolutionary breakthrough). Then, why would you make a lot of pieces when it will be cheaper just to make the whole structure? To have it compete with mass-produced Lego blocks will be a stretch for far greater than 20 years. To use it for specialty pieces might make sense, but color matching hasn't even begun to being solved to these products.

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    The bricks will probably be fairly simple to replicate, as will straightforward and uncomplicated bits. Anything painted/intricate will be more difficult. In such a world I'd imagine the majority of a set would become worthless, while a few key pieces which could not be reproduced at home would soar in value. The minifigures themselves would likely become the most valuable of all as any home machine could not copy the high quality and long lasting paint applications Lego is famous for. Eventually though even these obstacles will be overcome and then all bets are off. By that time traditional manufacturing will have disappeared and companies that do not adapt will not survive.

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    The record wasn't the product it was the medium. Music is the product. People found a cheaper and more convenient medium to deliver the product. LEGO on the other hand is both the product and the medium. Think of a random bag of bricks and a plastic star wars toy. Both are cheap. But mix the two together and you have magic.

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    Guest skfdlty

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    This won't catch on for some time, as the technology isn't there to make alot of these "bricks" at a time. If they can make them for cheap and quickly, well, that's a different story....

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    Hey, why buy music when you can buy a guitar and drumset for your basement? Hey why eat at a restaurant when you have a kitchen at home? There will always be people less tech savvy and less creative than a collective company and will want to buy something rather than make it. Not to say that it won't effect the reselling market in some small way in the next 20-30 years.

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    Great article, very interesting!!! I don't think this will hurt Lego investing or Lego value for a long time, if ever. Even if you could recreate a modular set with a 3D printer, it still wouldn't be true Lego. I am a Lego fanatic, when I buy Lego I want everything, the set, the box, the instructions, etc. Even if a 3D printer could make all of that (the Lego set, box, direction book, etc, it still isn't a Lego trademarked item. So for serious collectors like myself, well we will continue to buy Lego, not a copied Lego set made in someones basement, regardless of how well done it is. In is no different than Ferrari replica cars that people build. Does it look exactly like a Ferrari? Yes. Does it sound just like a Ferrari? Yes. Does it have Ferrari badges? Yes. Is it a Ferrari? Nope. See my point? LOL, just my opinion.........

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    Interesting stuff. The 3D printing phenomenon is really poised to take off in the next decade. Unsure it will effect Lego that much. I think it might be hard to replicate the precision that exists in a Lego brick. Have sets and MOCs fall apart if the bricks are a couple of microns out and have no grip strength might be an issue.

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    Also Lego really could just put this to a stop if people are making replica bricks and reselling them they can be sued so I don't think legos will catch on it 3d printing lego will stay on top. Do we believe that lego will stop because everyone will go buy there own printers to make the toys would we support that kind of thing? Answer would be know if we don't support them and decide to do it on our own which you very well can you wont get the suprise of new sets you will just make them and qaulity wont be good for a long time. Plus like I said you can't sell it its like conterfiting.

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    This doesn't worry me one bit. If people won't use Megabox or Kre-o, they certainly aren't going to use paper copies. (or whatever material these use) There are all sorts of things we can do/make in our lives that we still pay for. So until this is super fast, uses the same material and is super cheap...not an issue.

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    Sure, 3d printing legos is cool and all, but you realize legos aren't made out of plastic, they're made out a more expensive material. 3D printers as far as I know can only replicate objects using plastic. Correct me if I'm wrong.

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    Off subject but super cool....one of the ways they are discussing building space stations and bases on other planets etc is to use 3-d printers...Send the printers and then 'print' off the pieces, parts, tools you need... Pretty f-bombing cool...

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