Categories: Event Reviews

Last week in Las Vegas, as I walked the show floor at the enormous Consumer Electronics Show for the 25th time (my first show was in 1989), I was left with three impressions:

  • How lightly attended the show was (what economic recovery?)
  • How few new & innovative products were being exhibited (technology moves fast, but markets & industries evolve)
  • The large, excited crowds at the show’s first 3D Printing Tech Zone (consumers & resellers get the technology and want to learn more)

While the major suppliers like 3D Systems and MakerBot/Stratasys did a masterful job in promoting their new “consumer 3D printing” products and services, a closer look at the products being offered indicates the sad reality that the leading companies are NOT improving the quality and precision of desktop 3D printers.

The very category of 3D printers that has sparked recent massive interest in this 30 year old technology( that has the potential to do for prototyping & manufacturing
what the first Apple computers & PC’s did for computing), appears to slowed its innovation, just as it is starting to catch everyone’s attention.

For example, the new line of MakerBot 3D printers(the largest selling brand of desktop printers) that are to ship this spring, have no better precision than
previous models, and have REDUCED the filament materials supported to only PLA. Customers wanting to use industry standard ABS are being directed to
last year’s model, or referred to the Stratasys industrial models that were on display(with price tags of $30,000 and up). This appears to a step in the wrong direction.

Of the 30 odd exhibitors, there were a variety of lower cost, larger capacity and even cuter desktop printers, but other than a few commercial grade printers
in the $20,000-30,000 range, I heard nothing about precision, faster printing performance, or wider range of physical material capabilities that are at the heart of what
matters to business people, and consumers as well.

The good news is I did find a few new product gems hiding in tiny startup booths that most people passed by to look at the major exhibits. I spent over two hours talking with the engineers and founders of these startups to technically validate their designs and what their products mean for improving the usefulness of desktop printing. I must say that this old cynic was impressed.

I will be writing in depth reviews of three of these innovative products (one printer,  a new 3D scanner and a new metallic material offered by a printing service bureau) in the near future as their evaluation units arrive. While I am intrigued and hopeful that these startups will advance the state of the art of affordable 3D printing
in the coming year, I am a bit saddened by the fact that all three companies are foreign based. 3D printing is an American invented technology. Where are all the creative American entrepreneurs in this category?

I will be writing more on this topic in the coming days and weeks.

Stay tuned for the product reviews!

Robert Zollo
A “serial entrepreneur”, Bob has founded two companies that have contributed to the advancement of desktop FDM 3D printing, one in the software arena and one in the FDM plastic materials category.
Recognizing that desktop 3D printing has the potential to become as valuable and ubiquitous as personal computers in industry, Robert’s vision for is to educate, promote and assist the vast number of design, engineering and manufacturing professionals seeking to incorporate desktop 3D printing as part of their work process.
Posted on Jan 20, 2014