Joe DeSimone, founder of Carbon at the CES 2016 3D Printing Conference.
In preparation for the upcoming CES 2017, I’ve been looking back on some reports from the 3D Printing Marketplace at last year’s event. First and foremost, there was a lot to be positive about with new products from MakerBot, Mcor and Polaroid, to recall just a handful, but there was also a change in atmosphere as the wow factor in plastic prints seen in years gone by showed signs of fading as a result of 3D printing's growing visibility to the average consumer.
Like the assortment of printers in the CES 3D Printing Marketplace, if you take a look at the neighbouring Health and Fitness area, you’ll find smart watch after smart watch, followed by fitness tracker after fitness tracker - how different could these accessories be? Yet it remains a huge part of the event and a booming industry overall with visitors on the lookout for the next big thing. The fact is Fitbits can be applied to pretty much anyone. Naturally every person at my gym has one, I know mums who wear them daily to get their 10,000 steps a day in, and they’ve even bought them for their children for Christmas. These colourful gadgets are blending in quite nicely as an accessory you strap onto your wrist every morning without a second thought.
For 3D printers, it’s a different story. The dream of one in every home has gone and so too have the evangelists who continued to flog this dream against any realistic statistics. But that had to be expected, after so much hype and little scope for viable consumer use cases, the bubble was destined to burst. Quite simply, not everyone has an application or the patience for a 3D printer. Unlike a watch, they can’t be strapped on and forgotten about, a 3D printer is not just for Christmas, it requires a learning curve, an idea, and in turn, consumers have had to change their expectations based on sound knowledge as we find ourselves in what Gartner describes as, the Trough of Disillusionment.
Though that may be so, I promise the point of this piece is not all doom and gloom and there is much to look forward to in this ever-evolving industry. According to a new report by CONTEXT, personal/desktop 3D printers were the leading force behind a +25% rise in printer shipments last year, with 96% of those 217,073 machines falling into this sub-category.
Despite some companies shifting their attention to their industrial portfolios, the numbers show there is still clearly a big market for personal 3D printing and there are several companies on the CES show floor that continue to show new models every January. Last year XYZprinting launched an insane EIGHT new machines, one of which sported a $250 price tag and the Taiwanese manufacturer is now leading the market by a country mile in terms of shipment numbers. Evidently, pricing is a major factor and each year the battle for the cheapest FDM 3D printer gets more and more competitive, meaning some machines are now sold in major toy stores for less than the price Xbox ONE.
If you look at the 2017 3D Printing Marketplace, you’ll spot the notable absence of a handful of big names that were on the floor last year. Sure these might be major players in the wider additive industry (Stratasys and 3D Systems are the big two missing from the current line-up, the latter of which has used CES as its premier launch pad for new tech since 2014) but the desktop sector has its own roster of rising major players that will be in the spotlight at this year’s event.
Aleph Objects, the Colorado-based open-source 3D printer manufacturer, was this year named in the prestigious Inc. 500 as the fastest-growing privately held computer hardware company in the United States. That is a huge accolade that shouldn’t be overlooked and with Aleph reporting revenue of $5.8 million for its second quarter this summer, it exemplifies how 3D printing can be a major force when done right.
Then there’s Formlabs, a Kickstarter success story that’s progressed through three generations of hardware and wracked up a total investment of $55 million for the world’s top-selling stereolithography systems. Whether it’s working with engineering grade resins for prototyping or printing end-use dental devices, Formlabs is shipping over 1,000 boxes a month.
MarkForged is another exhibitor doing great things in the desktop space with its low cost carbon fibre 3D printing technology. It’s not consumer-orientated by any stretch but it is opening up opportunities for 3D printing with some interesting and valuable materials, particularly with its most recent launch, the Onyx One, a $3,500 printer, which can produce carbon fibre parts fast and cheap.
CES is often a place where I’ve been pleasantly surprised by technology that could easily go unnoticed amidst a mob of plastic, FDM machines, by offering something completely new, like NewPro3D’s debut last year or the Figure 4 demo by 3D Systems. I’m expecting the same to happen in Las Vegas this week with 3D printing spilling out further than the dedicated 3D printing marketplace, and the likes of Nano Dimension and ComeTrue3D popping up in dedicated pavilions across this mammoth event.
Parts from 3D Systems Figure 4 3D printing Technology
Parts from 3D Systems Figure 4 3D printing Technology
I mentioned the Trough of Disillusionment earlier but as Todd Grimm explains in his TCT column, it is by no means a bad place to be. The next step in the cycle forces us to think realistically about whether 3D printing can do everything for everyone and instead cut through the noise to find where it has the most value, and it probably won’t be in printing Yoda busts. Our entire conference programme at CES this year is all about how 3D printing will affect consumers, that doesn’t necessarily mean by buying their own machines, but instead will feature major industrial names talking about how 3D printing will affect the way we travel, our health and fitness and enable a new class of connected devices. As always, I’m excited to see what’s new for 3D printing at CES and learn about how this technology is really going to affect our everyday life. See you there!