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Makerbot's wall of creation
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10,00 Watt AirPlay speaker!
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The 3D Systems Cube Café
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An Afinia 3D printer working with sample parts
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Cubify Capture demonstration
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The CubeX — would a BfB by any other name look so sweet?
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Form 1 printing on the stand — this beta version is almost identical to the product that will ship to Kickstarter backers
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Makerbot's wall of creation
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Forget the tech on the stands, take a look at the space above the Samsung set up!!
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Sculpteo had a surprisingly large stand at the heart of the hall
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Stratasys also made the trip to Vegas showing the new branding for one of the first times
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The unique lighting set up made photos of the PP3DP (UP!) stand a bit challenging with an iPhone...
Held annually at the Las Vegas Convention Centre, CES is one of the biggest trade events in the USA. With 150,000 visitors and over 3,250 exhibitors, the 1.92 million square feet (180,000 m2) of floor space buzzes for the entire five days. Some of the stands (or booths depending on your location) were truly massive and contained as much electronics to run them as they were displaying — as you can see from the panorama of the roof of the Samsung 'stand'. This makes simply walking the halls an awe inspiring experience without even looking at the enormous HD, 3D, 4K and 8K televisions, or 10,000 watt AirPlay speakers!
This year's event was the biggest to date, both for the show as a whole and for the main reason I was there: 3D printing. This year saw seven 3D printing exhibitors big and small scattered throughout the halls demonstrating the machines, software and services that make up the 3D printing ecosystem.
I had previously worried that the impact of the individual 3D printing stands would 'diluted' by the sheer size of the show — and so it came to pass. For anyone that was specifically interested in seeing this aspect of the show getting to each stand was a hassle. One of the biggest problems was that the Valencia Ballroom, which hosted a proportion of the 3D printing companies is a good drive in a coach thanks to traffic rather than distance. One way to combat this — although at unnecessary cost and logistics effort — is to take a place in both the main halls and the Valencia like 3D Systems did. Now 3D are probably one of two companies in the sector that could afford to do that and indeed would want to. I met up with 3D’s CEO, Avi Reichental, at the show and he was pleased with the response to the split-booth deployment.
Having spoken to the 3D printing companies on the show floor, it was in fact only 3D Systems that expressed the desire to keep the location of 3D printing stands the same next time — I had asked the companies if a zone housing all 3D printing might be more appropriate. I believe it would make sense as it would allow a level of co-education of the visitors, which is important for any emerging tech. Rather than every company having to educate the visitors, a dedicated zone could do the hard work of letting people know that 3D printing exists, and what (roughly) is involved, before each company then demonstrates their take on it.
Our first port of call was Sculpteo who happened to be the closest from the entrance we used at only 10-15 minutes walk away! The impressive stand showed the in-house and third party apps that give access to the Sculpteo 3D printing cloud engine. From creating a vase by using a virtual pottery wheel on your iPad, to making a vase from sound waves you create. The iPhone cases were central to the display as the company celebrated winning The Best of Innovations 2013 from CES for its 3DPCase app, a cool way to use your iPhone to make a case for… your iPhone.
The second stand visited was a slightly smaller affair, but one that no doubt saw some terrific traffic over the show — Formlabs. The team had a couple of Form 1 printers on the stand with a beta (final pre-production) printer building one of the famous Eiffel Tower models in grey resin. I managed to grab a few minutes with Luke Winston and co-founder Max Lobovsky right as the hall started filling up. The pair both re-iterated that while there was a consumer aspect to the Form 1 the major market would be for professional users who need SLA-accuracy from desktop models. They also expressed their determination to keep everything from design to resin development and software coding in house, giving them complete control of the process.
Charles Mingus said: "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity." When you look at the Formlabs set up, you have to agree. From a single button on the front of the printer to the purity of the shape through to the uncluttered software set up, the company has created something that demands to be used. Lasers and liquid resins are inherently more of a challenge for the home used than ABS stored in a solid state and an extruder as print head, coupled with the price ($3300) I can't really make a case for anyone other than a professional to own one of these machines. For the target professional market however, the Form 1 drops barriers to adoption and puts an extremely powerful tool within reach of most designers. engineers and beyond.
From Formlabs to Afinia and the difference even at this level is now like night and day. The Afinia looks more like the sum of the engineering process behind it than does the Form 1 — more industrial, less polished. By the time we had found Afinia the crowds were in full flow, so getting to speak to anyone proved impossible however we did get to take a look at the machines (essentially a re-badged Up!) and some of the parts. Afinia was also riding the wave of a prize win from Make: Magazine in the form of the 'Best Overall Experience' in the Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing. If the crowds on the stand are anything to go by this little FDM-style machine has legs.
Next up was Stratasys — perhaps the least likely of the 3D printing outfits to be at CES, namely as they don't have a specific consumer-focussed offering. Undoubtedly booked by Objet before the merger the stand will certainly have paid for itself several times over simply because it gave brand exposure to a potential 150k visitors. Again, a very busy stand filled with 'punters' and a lot of PolyJet models with a handful of FDM bits and pieces. Could this perhaps point towards a very low-end PolyJet machine aimed at consumers? We can only hope!
The last in the hall were MakerBot with it's impressive wall of Replicator 2s. Their stand was facing a wall — seldom a good thing — but this did mean they shared none of the hundreds of visitors to their stand with anyone else. I managed to grab five minutes with a very happy looking Bre Pettis who explained that they'd decided to go big this year to make the most of the opportunity. Front and centre on the stand was the Replicator 2X with its refreshing marketing message: 'If you're don't know about 3D printing, this is not the machine for you.'
So often marketeers get hold of an idea, over simplify it and set about selling it to anyone, regardless of whether it is suitable. The 3D printing landscape has seen its fair share of this over the last few years and this level of honesty is refreshing. More on this machine to come.
Perhaps the only machine that can really appeal to beginners is the Cube from 3D Systems as mentioned in my initial review. It was to 3D Systems that we went next — just a 20 minute trek through some of the 1.92 million square feet of space at the show!
3D's booth in the main convention centre was an almost identical version of the Euromold set up, with the Cube café, 3D printed instruments and band. There were some new additions however as would be expected with the recent acquisitions. Firstly Cubify Capture, a system that allows users to use their smartphone as a scanning device to digitise real objects. Like Autodesks 123D Catch, the technology allows users to take multiple pictures — or for Cature a video — which is uploaded to 3D Systems who extract a 3D model and send this back. The model can then be cropped, manipulated and augmented before output as a 3D printable file.
This sits extremely well with 3D's mission to give everyone the ability to create and print 3D content. Our demo showed exactly how easy it is to create a base model which can then be further manipulated without having to touch a mouse, let alone a complex CAD package.
The next step in the 3D Systems content creation chain is the companies implementation of the Sensable hap tics technology which 3D acquired with Geomagic. To be sold a s software and hardware bundle, the haptic technology turns your 3D model into a malleable virtual clay that you can cut, mould, texturise, smooth and pull at using a feedback enabled tool. Using what looks like a multi-jointed pen, users can interact with their digital model while getting real world tangible feedback — if you move the tool into your model the wand will create the right amount of resistance in your hand. Push harder and you start to feel the tool move through the 'clay'. Very cool, very immediate and very useable. Also on the stand were the Cube updates which I will cover in a separate post.
Also on site were GROWit 3D in the Eureka Pavilion, demonstrating the passive 3D printed iPhone speaker amplifiers; Kraftwürx launching its 'Digital Factory' cloud 3D printing platform booth sharing with EnvisionTEC; and UP! 3D printers with the UP! Plus and UP! Mini.
On the whole this was a very positive show for the 3D printing crowd and a great demonstration of things to come. While the purely consumer market for 3D printing seems to be limited at the moment, the crossover or 'prosumer' (eugh) market looks vibrant.