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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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    Very interesting article, thank you for the post. While I think it will be a long time before this technology is accessible for all or the cost is low enough to compete with the infrastructure Lego has established.

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    Even just little things like stickers and stuff could cause the replicas to be worthless. I don't think this will ever happen but then again a grandma doesn't live forever.

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    Interesting article. I would debate the price point factor involved - since using #D printing is still quite expensive comparably speaking and in it's infancy. Maybe in about 5 more years something like this could become more prevalent on a small time basis.

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    Eye opener article. While I agree this may pose a threat only in a few years, one cannot forget the factors bringing Lego demand down (there will be certainly many factors bringing their price up too). All in all, factors such as these may push prices down since 3D printers (and toy companies using these in large scale) will be quite a competition in a few years simply because... the Lego market demand side is not made of investors only. The large bulk of the market are actually parents buying toys to their kids and although ours and many other generations grew up with Lego, certainly the next generations will grow up seeing more than Lego when it comes to brick models. I still think this won't defeat Lego brand and quality ;)

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    Interesting Video posted on CNN today 'A 3-D printer created this shoe'. I'm impressed with the 16 different colors of the cube and the fact it can print in two different plastics - ABS and compostable PLA. http://www.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_t2#/video/tech/2012/03/31/nr-kaye-3d-printer.cnn Interesting that today is 3/18 and the video says it was added on 3/31! You too can see the future, lol

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    I own 3D printers. I have good machines and a couple small hobbyist machines. The resolution of any machine cannot compare to the injection molding process. The tolerances of LEGO bricks is impeccably accurate and cannot be rivaled by a 3D printing process. Even if you tried to make big blocks. 3D printers have a resolution at best of 7mil, which can be felt with your finger. You can model blocks and put them together, but they will NOT be anywhere near as good as an actual LEGO!

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    3D printing is really cool but how likely do you think it really is that all of the time effort and money that goes into using it to reproduce an entire lego set will ever become more desirable than going the legal route and buying the officially licensed set? I know collectors will always prefer the real deal, and so will little kids, so what group of people are we talking about when we say people are gonna make counterfeit legos? When the time comes that a 3D printer is actually affordable to the average person, I'd imagine that using it to reproduce old toys would be a hobby in itself. Consider all the effort and time that'll go into doing that correctly. If you had the highest quality printers in the world and you also obtained an original picasso piece, do you think you would be able to replicate that piece accurately enough that an art collector would believe it was the real deal? Copying a toy is the same thing. It may be possible but it would take a tremendous amount of skill, time, and materials. If you had the skill and the means to do something like that, you'd probably not be online sharing it for free. Just my opinion. If I'm wrong, that sucks. I'd hate to see the market flooded with fake reproductions of antique toys

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    I think that what will eventually happen is that the REALLY good 3D printers (just like laser/inkjet printers) will still be VERY expensive. BUT Lego will be able to afford the REALLY expensive ones. This will allow Lego to cost effectively make small run pieces and possibly have these in their stores to make pick a bricks

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    3D Printers will never replace the rush of finding a long lost set/minifigure or building piece at a show, or online. The best part about collecting or investing is hunting for the deal.

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    3-D printing is cool and I agree the technology isn't cost effective yet. I feel like part of the lego magic is going to the store and finding the one set you have been wanting. It fun to look at the different ones, see the great packaging and hold the set in your hands. 3-D printing can't compete in my mind to the shopping expierence.

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    you forgot to account for the fact that in 20 years, Lego would be building mini lego cars that can actually fly.  See? We can all make assumptions about what's going to happen 20 years from now.  I'm sure when that time comes, all the lego investors would be able figure out what to collect by then.  

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    I love 3d printing, but it's a long way short of the quality of LEGO parts.  When I was a kid, I remember the talk (be it true or not) that LEGO parts were made to the same accuracy as space components.  3d printing still has a way to go.

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