I went back to the US recently and I decided to go to CES in Las Vegas. CES is one of the largest consumer electronic trade shows in the world and it gives companies the opportunity to showcase the latest electronic products to industry insiders. I specifically wanted to go because I wanted to learn more about 3D printing. We have identified 3D printing as both a threat to our current business and also an opportunity, and I’ve been looking for the chance to learn more about 3D printing.
I did some research about 3D printing while in Hong Kong, but I was unimpressed by what I saw. Currently in Asia (at least China, Hong Kong and the Philippines) 3D printing is really on the fringes, with basically no public interest in 3D printing, and only interests relegated to very specific industries that depend on molding, such as the jewelry industry.
I visited one company in Hong Kong that was a distributor for 3D machines. The machines that they showed me were cool for novelty purposes, but I didn’t find the overall concept to be extremely compelling. Below is a figurine that was printed by a 3D printer. They used a technique where they do a complete body scan of a person and a 3D printer uses a chalk-like substance to basically print a miniature model of a person or any other object.
This of course has high novelty value, but the machine cost over $100,000 and the substance is extremely brittle and easy to break. The neon plastic piece below was printed on a $1,500 printer, and the material is much stronger. However, the machine lacks the ability to print any real detail, and it can’t print in color. The $100,000 machine is basically useless to anyone, unless they are in a very specific industry and the $1,5000 machine although affordable, basically can’t even produce something with equal quality to those little green army men we played with as kids.