3-D Printing prepares to hit the mainstream
by Peter Svenson
February 03, 2014 12:00 AM | 459 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Trade show attendees examine centerpiece confections made with a ChefJet Pro 3D food printer on display at the International Consumer Electronics Show. (Julie Jacobson/AP)
Trade show attendees examine centerpiece confections made with a ChefJet Pro 3D food printer on display at the International Consumer Electronics Show. (Julie Jacobson/AP)
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LAS VEGAS - Some of the oddest items on display this month at International CES gadget show were edible, origami-like sculptures made of sugar, their shapes so convoluted as to baffle the eye.

The treats are one of many signs that we'll all be getting a taste of 3-D printing soon - and the phenomenon won't be relegated to the realm of engineers and tech enthusiasts.

The sugar sculptures are the output of the ChefJet Pro, the first commercial, kitchen-ready food printer. It looks like an oven, and deposits sugar layer by layer in a tray, then melts the parts intended for the sculpture with water so they solidify much like sugar in a bowl will harden with moisture.

Ink can be selectively added to the water so the sculptures come out in full color - a feature sure to set the minds of wedding and party planners spinning. Next to the geometric sculptures was a wedding cake supported by a delicate lattice-work tower of sugar that would be nearly impossible to make by conventional means.

Oh, and the printer can print in chocolate, too.

3D Systems Inc., a Rock Hill, S.C., company, expects to sell the full-color printer for about $100,000 in the latter half of this year, and a monochrome version for half that price.

Last year, there were only a handful of 3-D printing companies at the gadget show. This year, there were thirty, and the organizers had to turn others away because they couldn't fit them in. The 3-D printing area of the show floor drew dense crowds that gawked at the printers and their creations, which ranged from toys to tea cups to iPhone cases.

Melissa Spencer, a jewelry designer from Los Angeles, was at the show to look for a printer. 3-D printers have been used in jewelry-making for a long time, but high prices and poor resolution have limited their use.

With prices down and output quality up, it's now possible for an independent designer to buy her own printer, Spencer said.

The printers focus bright ultraviolet light into liquid resin, setting it. That takes time. One printer maker cited 7 hours for a batch of five rings. The plastic pieces are then used to create molds for molten silver, gold or platinum.

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