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producer_of_cesI’ve popped vitamins, ate right, and got plenty of sleep over the last week. Now I’m at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. With 5,000+ exhibits and a crowd of 150,000 attendees, I’ll need all the stamina I can muster.

What’s Different This Year?

It seems every article I read proclaims this year’s CES will be the year of automotive, or augmented reality, or the Internet of Things, or smart devices, or wearables, etc. And it seems that 3D printing has been de-emphasized.

ces2016Have We Entered the Trough of Disillusionment?

The two leading companies (and some others) in the industry are struggling. I’m expecting to see the outcome of that at CES. Last year 3D Systems and Stratasys had two of the biggest booths in the 3D printing area and two years ago, then-MakerBot CEO, Bre Pettis even delivered the keynote!

Since then things have changed. Stock prices at the “big two” are way down. 3D Systems has announced plans to scrap the Cube (and a lot of other projects). Stratasys’ MakerBot division laid off a bunch of staff and lately seems to be shifting their sales efforts from consumers to the education and professional markets.

New Players

In the industrial sector, there’s a general sentiment that 3D printing is too slow, too costly, and of lower quality than other methods. Everybody entering the game is out to change that perception.

Over the past two years, a lot of big companies have thrown their hat in the ring. Bosch, HP, Ricoh, and Toshiba…just to name a few. They bring big R&D budgets and established production, sales, and service forces. Then there are new entrants like Carbon3D, backed by a $100 million investment from Google.

And, don’t forget China. One forecast suggests that Chinese manufacturers could sell 160,000 3D printers this year. Estimates for 2015 globally are around 200,000 printers.

Of the 65 3D printing exhibitors in this year’s CES, at least 12 are Chinese companies.

The Slope of Competence?

Maybe we’ve left the trough and moved on? But to what? According to Gartner, we’d enter the slope of enlightenment. But that doesn’t seem right. I think right now, it’s more a “Slope of Competence.”

Competence has as much to do with people and process as it does technology. In 3D printing, that includes a lot of what happens before and after something is actually printed.

Last year around this time, I suggested it would be the year of workflow. In 2015, some major efforts were made on that front, including the establishment of a consortium to develop M3F, a new standard format for 3D printable files.

ces signWhat Does It Mean for 3D Printing at CES?

For starters, most or all of the new players mentioned above will be there, showing off their products and discussing their vision for for the future of 3D printing.

The old players will be there too, although they’ll be spending less time talking about desktop printers.

I’m sure we’ll all hear plenty about their current, new and planned technology.

The questions I’ll ask will be about the people, processes, and systems behind the machines. How will they be sold? How will they manage service and support? What value add can they bring (beyond the box)? That’s where the real story lies in 3D printing…and my goal is to find the answers here at CES 2016.

John Hauer and  Seena Rejal CEO of 3D Industries

The author (right) with Seena Rejal (left), CEO of 3D Industri.es, at CES 2016

About the Author:

John Hauer is the Founder and CEO of Get3DSmart, a consulting practice which helps large companies understand and capitalize on opportunities with 3D printing. Prior to that, John co-founded and served as the CEO of 3DLT. The company worked with retailers and their suppliers, helping them sell 3D printable products, online and in-store.

John’s original content has been featured on TechCrunch, QZ.com, Techfaster.com, 3DPrint.com and Inside3DP.com, among others. Follow him on Twitter at @maverickonline

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