3D printing trend emerges at Consumer Electronics Show
By Glenn Chapman, AFP
January 10, 2014, 12:17 am TWN
LAS VEGAS -- A 3D printing trend playing out at the Consumer Electronics Show bodes a future in which shoes, eyeglass frames, toys and more are printed at home as easily as documents.
Music star will.i.am even made a debut here as creative officer for 3D Systems, predicting that the technology will do for many basic items what iTunes did to the way people get songs.
He predicted that within a decade, 3D printers will be common in homes and people will print out things like shoes, belts, eyeglasses and accessories instead of dashing to a shop to buy the items.
"3D printers will be in your house like refrigerators, TVs and microwaves," will.i.am said.
3D printing has been around for about 25 years but has seen a surge in popularity as the technology improves and costs drop to a point accessible for hobbyists, artists and entrepreneurs.
Printers aimed at the home market typically use corn-based, biodegradable plastic layered and shaped using lasers and heated plates.
"Think of it as laying microscopic bricks; layers and layers of these bricks," said Roger Chang, chief executive of Singapore-based Pirate 3D, which makes a Buccaneer home printer that sells for US$497.
"Eventually, if you put enough bricks you get a building."
Brooklyn-based MakerBot was the only 3D printer company at CES five years ago. Now, it is surrounded by rivals on a large section of show floor devoted to the trend.
"We feel like this is the year of 3D printing," MakerBot spokeswoman Jenifer Howard told AFP.
"Now, entrepreneurs without major financial backing can create prototypes themselves and even do small-scale manufacturing. It changes the whole picture."
Along with objects such as figurines, chess pieces and appliance handles, printers can pump out ball bearings, gears and components for creations with moving parts.
"3D printing really is limitless," Howard said.
She noted that aerospace and defense contractor Lockheed Martin used MakerBot printers to make a part for a telescope set to launch into space in about four years.
MakerBot printers have been used in Africa to make prosthetic hands at a fraction of what they might typically cost, according to Howard.