The Consumer Electronics Show (aka CES 2016) in Las Vegas was last week and I was there to check out as much as I could in my brief visit (three full days) to the city in the desert. Every year, I have grand plans to see as much as possible. This year though, I ended up staying completely within one venue (the Sands Expo – also home to a ton of wearable tech, smart home, and fitness tech, and a huge hall for startups, which I also browsed) for the duration. Sure, I would have loved to hit the other buildings, but my focus was on the 3D printing side of things and, as much as I wanted to visit the other areas, there just wasn’t enough time. This is one thing people who have never been have a hard time understanding – it’s just too big for one person to see everything. This might also explain why the attendance was over 170,000 people with many news outlets and companies sending multiple people to see everything.
So, what’s new this year? A lot more than I expected. Before I arrived, I browsed the show floor map and was a little underwhelmed with what I saw. There didn’t seem to be as many big players with their huge, splashy booths as last year. But once I arrived, my worry was unfounded as there were plenty of big splashy booths, but a lot of partnerships and one booth/many players presenting within. A perfect mirror of the consumer 3D printing industry as a whole.
There were no big ‘reveals’ like previous years in 3DP, in my opinion (there actually might have been, they just didn’t hit my radar), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Here are some bullet point observations:
- Iterations rather than net new offerings, existing platforms evolving and improving (this is a good thing as the industry consolidates and matures)
- Seems like everyone is getting into the SLA/DLP game, with many new (although familiar) resin-based printers – even 3D Systems (the SLA patent holder) showed off a new SLA platform with a robot arm that prints in minutes, not hours. They all seem to like printing the same model to show off their build area size
- 3D Systems had the largest booth with the most varied selection of technologies and samples on display. The most interesting to me was the 3D printed eyeglass frames (complete with scanning station for correct fit), more 3D printed food (I had the passion fruit candy – texture was like a sugary Honeycomb, but fruity), and the whole wearables section. And, by wearables, I mean clothing and fashion. Some creative new processes were on display here, such as 3D printing directly onto nylon mesh fabric for a multi-material result that was stunning, more shoes including the Nervous System/New Balance project, jewelry and home furnishings, and even an object printed from asteroid material by Planetary Resources
- MakerBot was literally reduced to a side table within the Stratasys booth (which was tiny compared to the competition, but understandable since it is CES), where they showed off the Smart Extruder+, which seems to fix a pre-existing problem rather than really be an advance for them.
- There were a lot of sub-$300 printers, as well as a growing number of very large format printers
- One of the more interesting new machines was the AIO Robotics Zeus Plus which combines a 3D scanner and printer in one, along with a very well connected touchscreen that can do everything from run the scanner, search the internet for models, slice for printing, and even walk you through tutorials
- There were a lot of scanners on display this year, with many of them being built on the RealSense 3D technology from Intel
- Similar to the AIO machine, XYZ Printing had a multi-machine on display, but it included a 3D scanner & printer with a laser engraver.
- Voxel8 was back with their ‘electronics 3D printer’ showing the improvements since last CES with lots of samples of complete devices made on their machines.
- Getting my own 3D printed tie from Tom & Tracey of the Hazz Design team (and meeting in person!) who interviewed me last year for their 3DP podcast. I wasn’t wearing the right shirt, but our bartender rocked it
- Robo3D had an amazing booth with a giant 3D printed race track, complete with cars, multiple fully printed arcade cabinets, a guitar, a giant mascot, and even some sample packaging showing some new ideas for 3DP in retail. They weren’t the only ones showing the e-Nable prosthetic hands at the show, but they were the only ones printing a lot of them, instead of trinkets, on their display printers
- I got a bunch of different filament samples to try out, including some from 3DFuel that is made from algae, which I’m looking forward to trying.
- Against my better judgement, I also got a new 3D printing pen at the show. I’m usually quick to tell people to not bother with them when asked, but I’ve come to like having them while I’m teaching, as it keeps the kids interested and the new one I found uses eMate filament, which has a much lower melting point so the pen isn’t nearly as hot as it needs to be for most filaments. This filament also can be put in hot water and sculpted with, so it will be fun to see how the kids experiment with that. This pen is also a lot smaller than my other ones, so it’s better for kid sized hands.
There was a lot to see this year…and I was somewhat expecting it to be more of a downturn, but there was a lot of optimism from the vendors I spoke with in the 3DP space, so this continues to be an exciting industry to be involved in.
I’ve got a ton more photos on Flickr in my CES 2016 album.