CES 2014: 3D print rivals go toe-to-toe, and what it means for the professionals

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Held in Las Vegas every January, CES is where the consumer tech industry goes to show off its latest developments and give a glimpse of where it is heading.

While it’s always of interest to see what the future might hold (apart from a lot of landfill), the event in recent years has seen more 3D printing action than ever before.

As the consumer market is increasingly targeted by some 3D printer manufacturers, CES, rather than an industrial trade show, has become the place to launch new products.
2014’s event saw two of the industry’s biggest rivals face off against one another and try to assert themselves on the market as a whole.

MakerBot, now comfortable as part of the Stratasys group, was there in force and its CEO Bre Pettis was on hand to show three new products coming in the next few months.

From a rearchitecting of its Replicator device (to include a build camera, more connectivity options and a bigger build space) to two new products.

The first is the new Replicator Mini — same product, but smaller and cheaper ($1,175) to the Replicator Z18, bringing a substantially larger build envelope (300 x 300 x 450mm) than ever before at a decent price of $6,499.

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Then there were the announcements by 3D Systems, which are always curious to watch.

The company announced a slew of new products that ranged from an update of its Cube “consumer” machines, through ceramic printing with the CeraJet and sugar printing with the ChefJet.

It also took the chance to announce its newest “employee”.

It turns out that Will.i.Am, Black Eyed Pea, judge on BBC 1’s hideous The Voice and general all-round entertainer, has signed on as 3D Systems’ Chief Creative Officer.

Cue the mainstream media going nuts clamouring to get a photo of Will.i.Am holding a plate full of sugary treats straight out of a printer.

Part of the 3D printing industry is desperate to go mainstream. I mean proper mainstream. In the office, in the kitchen, everywhere. And I can’t blame them.

It’s a fascinating technology and has been for the last three decades. But ultimately, will the hiring of mediocre hip-hop stars and link ups with Martha Stewart mean people will want to print their own parts, their own food even?

Somehow I doubt it.

While all this goes on, what of the professional? Those that stand to gain the most from the adoption of these ever more reasonable priced devices?

Some vendors (Makerbot) seem to have realised this and while I’m sure they want them everywhere, it seems to acknowledge that there has to be an actual need for these things before folks buy them.

The lines of demarcation between consumer and pro devices are blurring but some vendors don’t want to see that — and are missing a trick.