CES 2015

Food, Colors, High Res: 3D Printing’s new Promises

3d printing

Who should read this: anyone who wants to know about what happened to the most interesting consumer 3D printing-related products on the way in 2015

While video games are now considered one of the most “consumer-focused” technologies around, it took many years for them to make it out of nerdy kids bedrooms and into the family living room. With 3D printing it might take even longer but the constant evolution shown at this year’s CES – the World’s leading consumer electronics show taking place in Las Vegas – demonstrates that the process has begun.

For the many 3D printing companies present at the fair, this exhibition is also a question of status symbol, meaning they have already started their hunt toward the “holy grail” of consumer adoption. In fact, companies that are present at the fair are mostly those that have by far the greatest appeal to the masses, such as MakerBot, 3D Systems and Ultimaker. Others such as 3Doodler have already broken through selling several tens of thousands of units, while companies such as DWS and OWL are keen on bringing their professional level technologies to consumers at a consumer-ready price-point (that is less than the price of a 4K TV).

The Voxel8 3D printer will be able to create electronic devices in a single print (image: Voxel8)
The Voxel8 3D printer will be able to create electronic devices in a single print (image: Voxel8)

Consumer Dreaming

There are also those that are well-established consumer companies, such as Autodesk and HP, and are taking their first (or second) steps toward full 3D printing support. While last year it was 3D Systems partnering with Intel on physical photography this year it’s HP partnering with Intel to grow its Blended Reality ecosystem. Finally there are start-ups and highly innovative companies such as Voxel8, which have created advanced technologies capable of drawing the crowd’s enthusiasm for their potential applications, specifically, in this case, 3D printing electronic devices at home. When that will happen (probably several years from now) it will be a huge consumer revolution.

In addition to launching new products, for most of these companies 2015 has been about consolidating and finalizing the process that begun last year, when both MakerBot and 3D Systems opened up a portal into the world of 3D printing by offering a variety of models that featured different capabilities, improved aesthetics and lower prices. These models were intended precisely for use in the living rooms by every-day people, instead of professional prototyping or other industrial utilization.

MakerBot's new wood, mineral and metal filaments open up many new possibilities (image: MakerBot)
MakerBot’s new wood, mineral and metal filaments open up many new possibilities (image: MakerBot)

Keeping last years promises

That promise has been kept, but only in part. Growth and development were steady but wide adoption did not happen yet. For example, MakerBot introduced three new printers (one large, one medium and one small) during the last year’s CES. The Z18 was very well received by professionals; The 5th generation Replicator and Replicator Mini had good commercial success (especially in the US) and are now on sale in many large US chains. The company has dedicated itself to promoting the use of its products by organizing several educational programs and establishing a functional file sharing through its Thingiverse network, now it will be possible to make those objects using beautiful composite materials, that is PLA mixed with powders of minerals, wood or metal.

The new family of Ultimaker 3D printers (image: Ultimaker)
The new family of Ultimaker 3D printers (image: Ultimaker)

Ultimaker, currently the biggest European desktop 3D printer manufacturer, followed in the footsteps of its American cousin. The company produces what is considered by many the best desktop printer and faces no problems with materials since it implemented an open source platform. Last year, the Ultimaker 2 was presented around this time and later became one of the best selling 3D printers in the world. This year Ultimaker introduced a smaller model, called the Ultimaker Go, and a larger one called the Ultimaker Extended, which is basically a larger Ultimaker 2. Nothing particularly striking or futuristic, but a great way to consolidate an already strong leadership at the European level and to reach out to conquer new markets.

The 3Doodler has been completely redesigned and now it's a lot "sexier" (image: 3Doodler)
The 3Doodler has been completely redesigned and now it’s a lot “sexier” (image: 3Doodler)

Big Numbers

Although it is not a 3D printer, the 3Doodler 3D pen is the only 3D creative product that has sold more than 100000 units. At the cost of 100 Euros and no requirements for CAD software knowledge, this product is a symbol for freedom of expression using 3D printing. The company aims to consolidate its dominance in this segment with a new version, the 3Doodler 2.0, which is 75% smaller 50% lighter. It is also and much nicer to use thanks to the new anodized aluminum body. Their success on the Kickstarter campaign for the second version of the pen (over 1000% funded) leaves no doubt on consumers enthusiasm around this product.

Last year, 3D Systems had the loudest voice in 3D printing with strong presentations at both EuroMold and CES exhibitions, announcing a total of 28 new machines including the Chefjet (for food), Cerajet (for ceramics) and CubeJet (for color) along with the Cube 3 and Cube Pro. This promise was only partially fulfilled. The Cube Pro and Cube 3 have arrived and are beautiful looking machines however they were not supported with strong consumer targeted marketing campaigns.

2015 will be the year of food printing for 3D Systems, with the Chefjet's release and the new ChocoFab (image: 3D Systems)
2015 will be the year of food printing for 3D Systems, with the Chefjet’s release and the new ChocoFab (image: 3D Systems)

While the Chefjet was not released yet, this year 3D Systems is focusing primarily on food. The company consolidated a partnership with Hershey and presented a new 3D printer named ChocoFab that was developed specifically for chocolate printing. No news regarding the ceramic model were revealed, while desktop color 3D printing is now been explored through the new CubePro C, which followed the acquisition of botObjects – a company that has gone through much controversy and skepticism about its ProDesk 3D technology. The final version of the color CubeJet printer is also on the way. This will be a $5.000 desktop machine using a technology similar to its Projet 660 professional level machine, the same one used to make full color Mini-me’s

Will DWS's highly awaited Xfab finally hit the market in 2015? (image: DWSLabs)
Will DWS’s highly awaited Xfab finally hit the market in 2015? (image: DWSLabs)

Another company that sparked great enthusiasm during the last year’s CES, was Italy’s DWS with its Xfab 3D printer promising to deliver professional SLA-level results at an affordable price ($5.000). A year later, the finished model has not yet arrived, but it’s definitely in the pipeline. The company has invested a lot to keep its promise by building an entire new factory and actively continuing to develop the machine, that will use the highly advanced photopolymer materials that are this company’s field of specialization.

All this preliminary processes took perhaps more time than initially estimated, but the Xfab remains one of the most desirable products not yet in circulation. What changed since last year is that now they will have to deal with other competitors such as Formlabs new Form 1+ and Old World Labs, who also develop and SLA system capable of 1 and even .1 micron resolutions. These companies have already announced their development predictions, promising a resolution of 0.1 microns by mid 2015. 3D printing with food, in high resolution, with electronics, and in full color: a lot of consumer dreams were on display at CES, lets hope at least some of these come true very soon.