Check-In CES: 3-D Printing With Style

The improvements from last year are astounding

The 3-D Printing TechZone at CES is sure to yield some of the most compelling demonstrations at the show, as companies vie to make complex structures materialize in front of our eyes. The improvements from last year are astounding in terms of speed, resolution and design. At this point, the limitations are not in the products themselves, but rather in the marketing and application of those products.

There still is not a clear purpose for these devices on a consumer level beyond the manufacturing of trinkets, mesmerizing as those trinkets may be. So the most important revelations at CES will not be in better technology, but in understanding how these companies intend to communicate their products to an audience eagerly awaiting a vision. CES attendees should press each of these companies to speak beyond just their technical specifications and to address how they believe the future will be shaped by the evolution of 3-D printing.

While the consumer applications for 3-D printing are still cloudy, the devices themselves are becoming far more consumer-friendly. Just one year ago, consumer 3-D printing was in its infancy, with clunky designs and complex interfaces. The average consumer simply didn’t have the depth of understanding necessary to use the products and to allow the industry to grow. This year, CES 2014 presents several designs which will help move 3-D printing closer to consumer adoption.

The Pirate 3-D Buccaneer is a fantastic example of how far consumer-grade printers have come over the last year. With a resolution of only 85 microns and a price tag under $500, the technical specs are significantly better than what we saw in early 2013. However, the most important aspect of the Buccaneer is how much effort Pirate 3-D has put into removing the psychological barriers inherent to other consumer 3-D printers. Aesthetically, the Buccaneer fits the decor of a modern home, while the setup and modeling have been pared down to novice-level simplicity. Time and again, consumer electronics manufacturers—from Nest to Apple—have shown how important design elegance can be when getting consumers to adopt an emerging technology.

Consumers are sure to be impressed by the technical capabilities of any of these printers, but companies must continue to consider whether the end product is something which consumers will want to buy, keep and use.