Having just returned from CES 2018, I have some thoughts about this event and how it fits into the 3D printing universe; or how it does not.
I started attending the annual CES event in Las Vegas a few years ago when it became a place where 3D printers were revealed to the world. As a publication interested in such things, that was a place for us to be.
The introduction of 3D printers to CES was led by MakerBot, who introduced multiple models at the event. We were present for most of these announcements, such as the announcement of the Replicator 2X and the Replicator Fifth Gen.
Other 3D printing companies joined in the year or two after MakerBot made their first appearance, most notably 3D Systems, who at the time had a consumer-level 3D printer, the Cube. Many made big announcements at the show, such as MCOR, who announced their full color Arke.
The presence of these two powerhouses in the industry drew others. We saw Ultimaker, Stratasys and many other companies present at CES, all showing off their products to much acclaim by the mobs of media wander the endless halls of the event.
The presence of all these companies triggered the CES mandarins to organize a “3D Print Zone”, where one could easily find all the vendors at once. To us, this was a very significant change, as we otherwise had to march from building to building to find everything we wanted to see.
This all happened because MakerBot and 3D Systems made big appearances. But why did they do so?
It’s simply because the two companies were aggressively pursuing a strategy of consumer 3D printing. They believed every home should have a 3D printer, and in fact we heard 3D Systems proclaiming that you should have one in every ROOM in your home!
Both companies profited enormously from this strategy, as the new consumer interest in 3D printing boosted their stock prices to unparalleled levels in their history. MakerBot eventually cashed out by selling to MakerBot in the fall of 2013 at the height of the consumer craze. 3D Systems continued on, but eventually this strategy fell apart. 3D Systems’ stock price - and those of most other 3D printing companies - fell precipitously as the public fell out of love with 3D printing because it really wasn’t as practical and useful as these vendors had portrayed them.
Meanwhile, CES’ 3D print zone continued from year to year. Two years ago there were around 100 3D printing vendors on display, which was located in the “emerging tech” area of CES. Last year there were around 70 vendors, a significant decrease.
This year the 3D print zone numbered only about 35, a huge drop. The 3D print zone was relocated to another area, about as far from the emerging tech area as possible.
MakerBot and 3D Systems were no where to be seen.
No notable big announcements were made.
Very few of the big players were present, other than perhaps LulzBot, Airwolf 3D and Zortrax. Many of the other companies were Asian operations attempting their first showing in the West, having not appeared at any other Western trade shows.
It seems that 3D printing at CES has run its course, and although it is possible to run into industry players, media and investors at this event, it is no longer a prime target for major 3D printer vendors.
Nevertheless, we did see a few items of interest that we’ll be describing over the next while.