3D printer technology was a hot item at CES 2014, with over 30 companies showing off their entries to the growing home and small business markets. 3D printing technology has been around for several years, but the devices have been too expensive for home markets. That’s all turning around this year, with counter top 3D printing machines shown at CES 2014 for a paltry $499. Of course, there are more expensive machines available as well, going as high as $3,000. These are full featured, large-scale machines ranging from the size of a microwave oven to a mini-fridge.
3D printers commonly work by using an intense infrared light to harden a liquid resin into the shapes desired by the user. This is the same technique some dentists use for fillings. Other 3D printer technology utilizes a spool of plastic wire that is trimmed and strategically melted to create the desired object. In the past, the high price of the machines and the low resolutions of the objects they could create kept interest mainly in the commercial and industrial sectors, where they were used mostly to make simple tools or replacement parts.
Although many items produced by the newest printers still bear the distinctive banded texture, 3D printer technology has recently gained the ability to create intricate, lightweight items fairly quickly and has raised public interest considerably. With 3D printer technology a hot item at CES 2014, the previously desolate home market is expected to balloon to 100,000 devices printing in homes around the world.
Perhaps the most intriguing printers at CES 2014 were the ChefJet and Chefjet Pro. Instead of resins or plastics, these devices print food. The ChefJet uses a mixture of dye, water, and sugar to spin delicate shapes and patterns that would be impossible to achieve by older methods. It can also print in chocolate, but only in one color per printing session, making it suitable for cake toppers or other small confections.
The ChefJet Pro is able to print in different colors and flavors such as the classics, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, as well as in flavors like sour apple and watermelon. The ChefJet will cost about $5,000 while the Pro model will be around $10,000. Both are expected to ship in March, but the price will likely make the purchase more of an investment for bakeries than a common purchase for household chefs. Since 3D printing technology is a hot item at CES 2014, the trend of falling prices and rising capabilities is expected to continue well into the future.
3D printers are set to change the way we make just about everything, from jewelry to tools to car parts. While current models work best for making items from the size of a cupcake to a human head that are intended for low stress applications, recent innovations have allowed for the use of more durable materials. NASA has invested heavily in 3D printer technology as a means for space explorers to replace tools lost or broken while in space. Because sending replacements would be impossible, the plan is to print new items as they are needed.
By Daniel O’Brien