CES 2014: Could 3D printing change the world?

Items are printed with a 3D printer at the Robo3D company stand at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
(Britta Pedersen / EPA)

LAS VEGAS -- Even though 3D printing is all the rage at the Consumer Electronics Show, many people outside the industry are still puzzled by all the fuss.

“Explain 3D printers to me. Why are they useful?” one non-techie friend of mine tweeted me this week, after I posted a picture of a 3D printer at the show.

By the way, there are 28 3D printing exhibitors at the show, up from just eight in 2013, according to Gary Shapiro, the president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Assn., which organizes the show.


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So I asked several of the companies why they are so excited about 3D printing, and more important, what the technology could mean to regular folks.

“It puts the power to make an object or manufacture an object in anyone’s hands. You no longer need to go to a factory,” said Daniel Cowen, co-founder of 3Doodler, a 3D printing pen.

Cowen’s product, the 3Doodler, lets users sketch out their ideas like any other pen, but unlike regular pens, the 3Doodler can also sketch objects in a 3D space, meaning the things they sketch come off the paper.

Another company at the show was XYZprinting, which plans to start selling a 3D printer called the Da Vinci later this year for $499 -- one of the cheapest 3D printers to hit the market.

Gary Shu, XYZprinting’s market development division senior manager, said the 3D printer can quickly create objects that users may need in their homes, such as a plastic cup or a plastic spoon.


“With 3D printing, you just get a design from the Internet, press the button and print at home,” he said.

Right now, users can download files in order to create objects using a 3D printer. They can also create objects using software such as Leopoly.

Gyorgy Simo, chief executive of Leonar3Do, the makers of Leopoly, compared the potential of 3D printers to that of the Internet, saying 3D printers could change the world. While the Internet gave users the ability to have instant access to information, 3D printers will give users the ability to instantly create objects.

In the future, users may be able to print shoes that are tailored to the exact size of their feet, among many possibilities. They may also be able to buy products directly from online retailers and print them out immediately, rather than wait for the item to ship.

“It’s closer than you think,” Simo said.


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