Now that the world’s biggest Consumer Electronics Show, held annually in Las Vegas, has ended, it’s a good time to sit back and reflect on the major trends on display and whether they are sustainable. The biggest buzz was clearly around 3D printing and what the future holds. There is a lot of hype surrounding the technology, so any evaluation needs to err on the side of caution. There were over 30 companies, which showcased their 3D printing technology and it was clear that price is a major issue since most came with a hefty price tag. Yet, the applications are certainly expanding. The ChefJet Pro 3D printer prints food and will retail for $10,000. There were printers like the MakerBot Replicator Mini for $1,375, but right now, the fact is that the most general use for 3D printers is to create plastic toys. That’s a long way from being a technology that many believe will one day revolutionise the world in countless ways. 3D printing is, however, getting exciting and moving closer to our living rooms. The database of downloadable, printable designs; mobile and desktop apps and products show that right now, we can start printing whatever our minds can create. For the uninitiated, users create a 3D image using computer software and send their digital blueprint to the 3D printer. What follows is known as “additive manufacturing”. The printer constructs objects—from the bottom up—by adding materials, as opposed to traditional manufacturing processes in which a raw material is pared down to the desired shape or products are moulded. With each pass of the 3D printer’s motorised head, the machine adds a thin layer of material—be it liquid, powder, metal or another material—until the object is complete. Products can take 24 hours to print.
The status of 3D printing is similar to the other big idea at CES: curved screens. TVs from Samsung, LG and other brands with curved screens grabbed a lot of eyeballs, but more for the novelty value than for any technological benefit. Right now, it looks pretty cool, but it’s still highly experimental