Las Vegas, Nevada hosted the 2014 International CES, more commonly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, this past week. For more then 40 years, the CES has been the main stage for many innovative and next-generation products to be introduced to the marketplace. Innovative products that have been released at past CESs include the compact disc player in 1981, plasma TV in 2001, and tablets in 2010.
[i] CES offers the more then 150,000 attendees from over 150 countries, the opportunity to view more then 3,200 exhibitors, including manufacturers, developers, and suppliers of consumer technology, hardware, and content. [ii] This year’s hot technology item at the CES was 3D printers. While 3D printers have been around for approximately 25 years, they have becoming a hot topic of discussion and seen a surge in popularity as the technology improves and costs drop to a point where they become realistic for the average hobbyist, artists, or entrepreneurs.
History of 3D Printers
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, began with Chuck Hull, of 3D Systems Corporation, when he created the first working 3D printer in 1984. In Hull’s subsequent patents, the term stereolithography was coined, as a method to make solid objects by printing thin layers of an ultraviolet curable material on top of one another. Hull’s patent describes a concentrated beam of ultraviolet light focused onto the surface of a vat filled with liquid photopolymer. The light draws the object onto the surface of the liquid layer by layer using polymerization to create a solid.[iii] This new technology greatly benefited engineers, as they were able to use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create models of their prototypes. With 3D printing, prototypes were created much faster then ever before, thus decreasing manufacturing costs and supplies used.
Current Advances in 3D Printing
The increase of 3D printing exhibitors at CES, from eight in 2013 to 28 this year, demonstrates how 3D printing is becoming even more popular. While 3D printing has been beneficial to scientists and engineers for the last few decades, much of the recent hype is due to what the technology could bring to the average consumer. Music star will.i.am, creative officer for 3D Systems, predicts that, “3D printers will be in your house like refrigerators, TVs and microwaves” in the near future. Much of the hype is due to the dramatic drop in prices of 3D printers. Singapore-based Pirate 3D offers a home printer for use $497.[iv] This affordable price tag will allow entrepreneurs to be able to create prototypes of new designs for a fraction of the price, reducing the need for major financial backing to create a prototype. At home printers may be able to offer Internet consumers the ability to print their products instead of waiting for them to arrive in the mail. 3D printer users can currently download files to create objects already designed, or they can create custom designed objects using software such as Leopoly.[v] Truly, the possibilities are limitless.
The Future of 3D Printing
Gyorgy Simo, chief executive of Leonard3Do, the makers of the Leopoly software, compared the potential of 3D printing to the Internet. Where the Internet was able to provide users with instant access to information, 3D printers will allow users the ability to create instantly. While some say these claims are reaching, the truth is yet to be determined. What is certain however is that 3D printing is on the tip of many techies tongues, and advancements are moving ever closer to bringing it to the masses.