Is 3D Printing Becoming Child’s Play?

Raise your hand if you had the Play-Doh Fun Factory in the 1980s. Yes, we were the lucky ones. Why with that one simple toy you could press, mold, create and even build your own toys. The fun factory offered limitless potential and as long as mom and dad kept resupplying you with fresh tubs of Play-Doh, boy there was nothing you couldn’t do.

Now fast forward to 2016 and Mattel has just unveiled ThingMaker, a $300 3D printer that lets kids create their own toys. Suddenly the Fun Factory looks as stale as the Play-Doh we all left on the table.

Unveiled at the Toy Fair in New York, ThingMaker’s 3D printing app works with Autodesk to create a simple interface kids can use to imagine their own projects. The concepts can then be printed on the ThingMaker itself or any other “adult” 3D printer. The app includes a series of templates kids can use to quickly create their own toys. And for those kids that want to create a uniquely original creation, the app has the tools they need to start any project from scratch. There are even options for saving past designs, including the opportunity to upload them to Dropbox or Google Drive.


ThingMaker(TM) 3D Printer and ThingMaker Design(TM) App Eco-System (PRNewsFoto/Mattel, Inc.)

On the surface ThingMaker appears to be a price point 3D printer but it’s much more than that. This is a child’s 3D printer in every positive sense of the word. It is a printer and interface system designed to be simple enough that a child can not only use it but thrive, creating toys of their own. The toys are then printed in parts that kids can use to build their original idea or make bigger and better creations – one of the few similarities that reminds us of our Play-Doh Fun Factory.

Mattel certainly hopes that ThingMaker takes off and as it grows, don’t be surprised to see other popular Mattel lines make a product appearance thanks to this technology. Company executives have already hinted that Hot Wheels and Barbie could get the 3D printed treatment. Maybe our children could even use the ThingMaker to print a toy or two for their dear sweet parents who would love to recapture their youth? I personally know of one home in dire need of a Fun Factory.