There was much to see for manufacturers and hobbyists at the 2014 Inside 3D Printing conference and expo.
EnvisionTEC displays complex 3-D printed items
Three-dimensional printer vendors and service companies had plenty of impressive and imaginative printed items on display at the 2014 Inside 3D Printing conference and expo. Attendees crowded the bottom floor of Manhattan's Jacob K. Javits Center to see how far 3-D printing technology had come since 2013's conference. With nearly twice as many companies displaying their wares this year, it was clear that the market shows no sign of slowing down.
Some exhibitors, such as German 3-D printer manufacturer EnvisionTEC, took the opportunity to showcase the intricate items that can be produced with a 3-D printer. As shown above, the items ranged from action figures and busts to complex geometric models and even jewelry, including bracelets and rings.
XYZprinting showcases low-cost 3-D printers
Besides a larger show floor, another significant change from last year's Inside 3D Printing was the price range of the printers. With interest in 3-D printing steadily rising, vendors are starting to make affordability -- especially for home users -- a major differentiator.
Taiwan-based XYZprinting is a relative newcomer to the market, but has already made comparatively low prices its major selling point, according to market development division senior manager Gary Shu. All XYZprinting 3-D printers retail for less than $1,000, including the da Vinci 1.0 model (shown above), which costs $499.
Mcor Technologies displays hyper-realistic 3-D printing capabilities
The quality of 3-D printed objects has evolved past clunky, monochrome figurines, as evidenced by some of the displays at the Inside 3D Printing conference and expo. More 3-D printers are capable of printing in a rainbow of colors, cutting back on the time people previously would have spent painting or otherwise finishing items.
Mcor Technologies, an Ireland-based 3-D printer manufacturer, showcased how startlingly realistic 3-D printed objects now can be. As the above image shows, such objects as busts, masks and mousepads can be printed from photographs -- with scarily lifelike results.
Live demo by MakerBot shows the Force of 3-D printing
Attendees at Inside 3D Printing got to see not just finished products but the 3-D printing process itself in action. Vendors such as Brooklyn-based MakerBot an industry heavyweight, had printers running throughout the three-day show to demonstrate how they work.
In the photo above, a MakerBot Replicator 2 model printer works on a figurine of Star Wars character Yoda. Fine polymer filaments are laid down and fused together by the printer head, starting from the bottom up, layer by layer, until a solid form is created. The process can take hours or days, depending on the size of the item. And the sizes on display varied widely, as the next slide illustrates.
Stratasys shows bigger doesn't have to mean more complex
Looking at the scale of the items above -- milk crates, chair backs and even detailed building models -- one might assume they were printed out in sections and assembled. Not so. They were all printed as-is on a large-scale industrial printer from Edina, Minn.-based manufacturer Stratasys. No further assembly was needed after the print jobs were complete.
The objects were designed using the Mastercam computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software from Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Cimquest. Most CAD/CAM software on the market today is compatible with 3-D printers, but the design complexity provided varies from package to package.
Afinia displays desktop-friendly 3-D printer
Industrial printers are a good fit for manufacturers or other users who need to print large items or, at least, large quantities of items. But for home hobbyists, desktop printers are probably the way to go.
The compact nature of these printers also lends itself to simpler designs that are easier for the layperson to manipulate and maintain. Afinia, a Chanhassen, Minn.-based maker of 3-D printers, displayed its H-Series model at Inside 3D Printing. It features a side-mount filament reel design and no lid, so users can see -- and better understand -- the entire print process
3-D printed food has sweet future
This year's conference put the consume back into consumer goods with a stronger emphasis on the market for 3-D printed food. Several sessions detailed the innovations made in recent years, from NASA's program to bring 3-D printed pizza to its astronauts in orbit to the bioengineering research being done on 3-D printed meat using living cells.
Rock Hill, S.C.-based 3D Systems offered attendees the chance to sample a 3-D printed sweet in the form of geometrically-inspired sugared mints, as seen above. Candy is the 3-D printed food that has found the widest audience so far, according to conference speaker Terry Wohlers, principal consultant and president of Wohlers Associates Inc.
3DMonstr goes from Kickstarter to reality
While there were plenty of big-name 3-D printer makers at the conference, some exhibitors came to the Javits Center from more humble backgrounds. Startup 3DMonstr, a 3-D printer manufacturer from Princeton Junction, N.J., received the funding it needed to get off the ground through an online Kickstarter campaign.
Currently, 3DMonstr produces three models of its T-Rex printer, which features four extruders that allows for multicolor printing. The printers are designed to be space-savers, folding up when not in use and transportable, according to the company.
3-D printed shoes coming to a foot near you
Fashion is one industry that often comes up in discussions of 3-D printing's uses. As 3D Systems demonstrated with its sneaker, the footwear industry is taking notice of the product customization that 3-D printing can afford.
The material used in the sole of the sneaker is very flexible, unlike the typical stiff, hard plastics used in most 3-D printing. With these flexible polymers and a computer-aided-design scan of a person's foot, manufacturers could create the ultimate in custom running shoes.
3D Systems uses its head to build a better helmet
Three-dimensional printing can produce items that are not only fashionable and functional, but potentially lifesaving as well. The above bike helmet, created on a 3D Systems printer, is made of industry-grade, impact-resistant materials that make it as effective -- if not more so -- than traditionally manufactured helmets, the vendor claims.
When it comes to what's under the helmet, 3-D printing has that covered as well. Recently, doctors successfully performed the first 3-D printed skull transplant. Custom prosthetic limbs are being printed for amputees, and printed ears and noses have been created using live tissue cells from patients. Biomedical researchers have even created partial organs -- kidneys, bladders and skin, to name a few -- using 3-D printers.