3D printing is one of those technologies that has looked ready to explode into the mainstream for several years now, and this year’s Consumer Electronics Show gave us a look at what might be coming in the not-so-distant future. Hardware and software companies at CES put on quite a few amazing demonstrations to show what the new technology is already capable of achieving.
To give some context on the level of excitement surrounding 3D printing at CES this year, the number of companies involved in 3D printing at CES went from one five years ago to 28 at CES 2014, enough to fill its own zone of the show. The barrier for entry to the 3D printing industry is now the lowest it has ever been, with some of the basic patents for 3D printing having already expired. However, many of the smaller companies who are just starting out could have trouble making an impact in a market dominated by names like MakerBot, 3-D Systems, and Sculpteo.
3D Printing at CES 2014
The excitement around 3D printing at CES 2014 is a good sign, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the technology is here to stay.
“A lot of the 3D printing demonstrations we saw at CES this year were cool, but I was looking to see if there’d be something that would go beyond just being cool,” said technolgy entrepreneur from Scottsdale Jason Hope. “3D printing has just about reached the point where it has to prove it’s all grown up. There needs to be a company out there who can show us this technology is more than just a toy, and that it’s actually something that people are going to want to make a part of their everyday lives.”
3-D Systems fulfilled the fantasies of many a geek by offering a booth that could scan a user’s face and then print it onto a Star Trek figurine. The Star Trek figurines are a new take on the company’s popular 3D Me app. It’s not an exact match for the replicators used on the show, as the 3D figures take much longer to appear, but it is still a fascinating demonstration from one of the leading companies in the 3D printing space.
One of the frequent criticisms about 3D printing is that it exists too much in the hobbyist space, and that no business has emerged yet to really make the technology accessible to the average user. Mcor Technologies was on hand at CES to show their plan to change that, a paper-based printer that promises to print objects with photorealistic color. The company has reached a deal with office supply retailer Staples to install the printers in-store for customer use, potentially opening the technology up to a whole new set of customers who would have never considered using it otherwise.
This year’s show also demonstrated that objects can be created on 3D printers using materials other than plastic. 3-D System’s ChefJet printed off candies in a variety of different complex shapes, giving conference attendees the chance to sample some of the more delicious possibilities offered by the technology.
One 3D printing device that puts a new spin on an age-old device is the 3Doodler. This “3D printing pen” allows users to sketch things much like they would with a normal pen, but also allows them to sketch in 3D space, literally making their drawings come off the page.
With all the different applications of 3D printing on display, CES 2014 could very well be remembered as something of a coming-out party for 3D printing.
“I get asked a lot if the hype around 3D printing is justified,” said Melissa Williams. “The truth is that every new technology goes through its phases of growth, and with the number of companies we saw at CES this year, it’s clear that 3D printing has moved out of its infancy, and is well on its way to becoming what we think its capable of being. Not all of the companies we saw at CES are going to make it, of course, but I saw a lot that would make me optimistic about the future of 3D printing.”
About Author: Amy Taylor is a technology and business writer. Amy began her career as a small business owner in Phoenix, Arizona. She has taken that knowledge and experience and brought that to her unique writing capabilities. She really enjoys new business related issues that are tied directly to technology.