Yesterday at CES, Makerbot CEO Bre Pettis announced three new 3D printers, including a massive, fifth-generation Replicator capable of producing objects that are 45.7cm tall and 30.5cm wide/long. Interestingly, all three new models -- there's also a simple, one-button version and a desktop prosumer version -- sport clear plastic sides. 3D printers are very susceptible to disruption from even slight breezes (the wind cools the plastic between the nozzle and the previous layer) but there's a completely batshit patent on the totally obvious "invention" of putting see-through sides on a 3D printer, so in general printers don't ship with sides, and manufacturers don't publicly advise their customers to add plastic sides to their machines.
It may be that these patents have expired, or that
Eos Stratasys, Makerbot's new corporate owner, holds or licenses the patents.
Update: It appears that Stratasys does indeed hold the patents on putting plastic walls on your 3D printer to control the temperature.
The two high-end new printers also ship with scanners to make it easy to copy existing shapes, and internal cameras and small exterior LCDs so you can monitor the build in detail while it's in progress. There's also a cloud-based, easy modelling app for making new 3D shapes for your printers.
Additionally Pettis announced a store selling cheap 3D files -- $1 each -- that will co-exist with Thingiverse, Makerbot's repository of free/shareable 3D objects. It's not clear to me what relationship these two will have, though -- there's good reason to worry that the store will pick off the best of Thingiverse's stuff and put it behind the paywall, and that this will put the brakes on the collaborative improvement of designs that makes Thingiverse such a marvel. It'll be interesting to see how Makerbot manages this tension.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.