It's going to take a while before 3D printers go mainstream, but consumers have shown a genuine curiosity about 3D-printed food.
3D food printers operate by printing out layers of edible materials, capable of creating pastries, chocolate, pasta, pizza, and other delicious snacks and foods. Unfortunately, supporters are struggling to find ways to turn this curiosity into a long-term business model - and whether this is an ideal strategy for home cooks or restaurants.
"The really exciting thing is the food we can't even imagine today because we don't have any way to make it," said Hod Lipson, Cornell University Creative Machines Lab director, in a statement to the AP. "That's the part I don't think anybody has really figured out."
3D printing technology has evolved at a fast rate over the past few years, but 3D printing still struggles to go mainstream among consumers. Prices for 3D printers and filaments are dropping, but consumers simply don't need one, even as more 3D-printed products and foods are introduced.
A wider selection of consumer 3D printers are available, but most consumers appear willing to wait for the market to develop further.
"Other than some of these cool examples, when does 3D printing go mainstream?" questioned Guy Kawasaki, tech analyst and former Apple chief evangelist, in a statement to CNBC. "I understand you can 3D print food. That's kind of a stretch for me. The fact that someone can 3D print a car doesn't mean you're gonna do it. So it may be that we're just a little bit too early to see what's really gonna happen there."
CES 2015 - 3D printing specialist MakerBot is attending CES 2015 to help promote its MakerBot 3D Ecosystem, designed to drive interest and innovation in the booming 3D market.
The company is promoting new MakerBot PLA composite filaments, MakerBot 3D Professional Services, a new mobile true remote printing and monitoring service, and the MakerBot Kit for MODO 801. Its PLA composite filaments will be available in late 2015, the company noted.
"We know there is a lot of hype around 3D printing," noted Jenny Lawton, CEO of MakerBot. "We also know that 3D printing is not plug-and-play. It can be challenging and that is why a major emphasis is on creating a MakerBot 3D Ecosystem that helps make 3D printing easier and more accessible. At CES, we want to ground the hype and showcase how educators, businesses and real users have incorporated MakerBot 3D printing into their daily work and lives."
Private defense contractors are chomping at the bit for their opportunity to explore 3D printing technology, hoping it can revolutionize modern warfare. The ability to use 3D printers in combat would provide a unique opportunity for soldiers to design and print things out while stationed at a forward operating base overseas, for example.
The US military is investing time and financial resources into 3D printing efforts geared towards military apparel, synthetic skin for wounded veterans, and food for soldiers, according to analysts. It goes significantly further than that, however, as companies are pushing the boundaries with tests of 3D printed materials in fighter jets, tanks, and helicopters. BAE Systems tested a 3D-printed metal part that was installed into a Tornado jet fighter in 2014.
"It's long term, but it's certainly our end goal to manufacture an aerial vehicle in its entirety using 3D printing technology," said Matt Stevens, 3D printing division head, in a statement to AFP.
CES 2015 - Green Project-owned GP3D will show off its $549 Sprout 3D printer during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), as the company tries to gain interest via Kickstarter.
Sprout is 11.7" x 8.7" x 15.9" and is designed to be ideal for a compact desktop printing environment - using PLA plastic filament, able to print at 0.18mm resolution. The printer unit will be ready to ship "in a few months," with additional details released during CES.
"Our focus is to make an affordable and high-quality 3D printer for everyone," said Joseph Wu, president of Green Project.
Astronaut Barry Wilmore installed the Made in Space 3D printer inside of the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) located on the International Space Station. A commercial printer manufactured by Made in Space will fly to the ISS sometime in 2015.
This is a major milestone for Made in Space - and 3D printing as an industry - as the crew aboard the ISS will test 3D printing in zero gravity, with 3D-printed items in space eventually returned to Earth for comparison testing.
"This is a very exciting day for me and the rest of the team," said Mike Snyder, Made in Space lead engineer. "We had to conquer many technical challenges to get the 3D printer to this stage."
3D printers have shown great potential, and will reach 217,350 units shipped in 2015, rising drastically from 108,151 in 2014, according to the Gartner research group. Gartner said the 3D printer industry is currently at an inflection point, and will see a drastic increase in shipments starting in early 2015.
"This trend will accelerate as the market consisting primarily of early adopters who grew up with an open-source approach without lock-ins evolves into a market in which average consumers dominate," said Pete Basiliere, Gartner research vice president, in a press statement. "While the early adopters will rage at the perversion of the 3D printer open-source ethos, the vast majority of mainstream consumers will demand the simple and consistent operation that 'plug and print' can provide them."
The 3D printer market will be led by increased material extrusion, as consumers and companies both begin to adopt an increasing number of products. The overall price tag of new 3D printers are still relatively high, but tech breakthroughs are helping drive the price down.
While 3D printing is evolving and maturing at a rapid rate, it's mainly businesses that are utilizing the breakthroughs, with consumer 3D printing at least five years away, according to research firm Gartner. The short term outlook indicates business and medical practices, interested in embracing 3D for functional purposes, will benefit from using 3D technology.
Trying to embrace 3D printing is still a relatively expensive endeavor at the moment, and end users might be interested in following the market - but aren't in a big hurry to invest in 3D printers and filaments to make their own 3D-printed creations. Over the next two to five years, there will be an increase in enterprise 3D printing, as 3D print creation software, scanners and printing services rise in the near future.
"Consumer 3D printing is around five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption," said Pete Basiliere, Gartner Research VP, in a statement. "Today, approximately 40 manufacturers sell the 3D printers most commonly used in businesses, and over 200 startups worldwide are developing and selling consumer-oriented 3D printers, priced from just a few hundred dollars. However, even this price is too high for mainstream consumers at this time, despite broad awareness of the technology and considerable media interest."
After successfully hosting its first Maker Faire, discussing 3D printing with its "Print the Fleet" workshops, the U.S. Navy is interested in learning how 3D printing technology can help. Specifically, the Navy hopes to see 3D printing help improve readiness, allow for faster manufacturing, and reduce storage and shipping costs.
The USS Essex currently has a compact 3D printer which is being used for testing, including sailors printing parts required for daily functions. Furthermore, an increasing number of Navy labs are testing 3D printing - but it's going to be curious to see how sailors onboard ships utilize the technology.
"When you consider the cost and vulnerabilities of our existing Navy logistics and supply chains as well as the resource constraints we face, it quickly becomes clear that we have to reimagine how we do business," said Vice Adm. Phil Cullom, naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics deputy chief. "When advanced manufacturing and 3D printing becomes widely available, we envision a global network of advanced fabrication shops supported by sailors with the skills and training to identify problems and make products."
The Smithsonian Institution successfully created a 3D portrait of President Barack Obama's head, and he has become the first sitting president to have a 3D-printed bust made. The scanning process only took a few minutes, with the president asking the team questions along the way.
The 3D printing took more than 40 hours to print, with more than 5,000 layers of durable plastic that was melted with a laser.
"[First], we 3D-scanned the face, ear to ear, at extremely high resolution, capturing details down to the pore level of the skin,", according to Smithsonian 3D program officers. "We worked with a team from the University of Southern California, who use this technology to 3D scan Hollywood actors. And then the Smithsonian 3D team used hand-held structured light scanners to scan the rest of the bust - the sides of the face, under the chin, the back of the head. We put these two data sets together in order to create the model we used for the 3D print."