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CES 2014: 3D Printers Proliferate And Everything’s Connected

Posted By Paul Tate, January 07, 2014 at 8:04 AM, in Category: The Innovation Enterprise

If you were ever in any doubt that the next big waves of technology innovation would be the pervasive connectivity of devices and the proliferation of 3D printers, look no further than this week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2014) in Las Vegas.

With over 20,000 new products on show, there are the usual flurry of future-focused and sometimes bizarre personal technologies – from curvable, 100-inch ultra-high definition TVs with screen resolutions even an eagle would gawk at, to Bluetooth connected toothbrushes monitoring a user’s cleaning habits, to wardrobe’s full of wearable tech including ever-smarter, web-ready watches, muscle-stimulating wrist bands, and heads-up swimming goggles that display a real-time heart monitor.

You’ll also find apps that allow cars to tell you to slow down when you’re speeding or instantly divert your route to avoid traffic congestion, door locks that you can unlock by smartphone, and home heating systems that detect your arrival and adjust the temperature to welcome you back.

But perhaps some of the most significant developments at the event this year are in 3D printing. While the world’s major manufacturers grapple with how to transition the technology from prototyping to larger scale production, the groundswell maker movement it has generated is expanding rapidly.

Just a year ago there were about four companies promoting 3D printing in some way at the CES event. This year, 3D printing technology has its own dedicated zone with almost 30 firms showing off their latest developments and related services.

One company, California-based AIO Robotics, is debuting an all-in-one system that can scan an object, create a virtual 3D model, and then either print out an exact copy or transmit the design spec details to a networked printer elsewhere for remote production. Is this the beginning of 3D fax?

Even Intel is eager to get into the 3D act, unveiling a new ‘perceptual computing’ camera called 3D RealSense, and partnering with 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental who is now working on ways to integrate the new Intel camera technology into the company’s 3D printing systems to scan objects and help create design templates ready for production.

Other established 3D printer developers are also in attendance. MakerBot, for example, has announced three new machines including a mini, one-touch version priced at just $1,375 for hobbyists, and a larger Replicator Z18 at $6,499, aimed at inventors wanting to make large industrial prototypes. 

And to give you some idea of how fast the 3D printing revolution is moving, MakerBot’s CEO Bre Pettis revealed that his company alone has already sold 400,000 3D printers around the world, generating 218,000 designs and attracting 48,000 downloads so far.

Pettis also believes the technology will be instrumental in driving more young people to consider manufacturing and physical design as part of their careers and is now working on a project to bring 3D printers to 100,000 schools across the US to help educate and inspire students about the potential of this innovative new production technology.

If you still believe that “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” – think again. If the explosion in 3D printing innovation at this year’s CES event is any indication, it clearly won’t! 

Written by Paul Tate

Paul Tate is Research Director and Executive Editor with Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Council's Board of Governors, the Council's annual Critical Issues Agenda, and the Manufacturing Leadership Research Panel. Follow us on Twitter: @MfgExecutive

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