The 2014 CES will be remembered as the year when 3-D printing arrived. Sure, there were plenty of grizzled veterans around who were willing to point out, as 3-D Systems' Avi Reichental did, that "3-D printing is an overnight success 30 years in the making."
But on the other hand, there was poster-boy Bre Pettis observing that five years ago, "MakerBot was the only 3-D printing company at CES." This year, CES opened a zone of show floor dedicated to 3-D printing for the first time - it promptly sold out, had more space added, and then sold out again. (MakerBot itself announced no less than three new printer models at the show.)
However, many technologies have had notable arrivals at CES following years of patient nurturing, only to fall by the wayside - 3-D TV, HD DVD and the MiniDisc are just a few examples that spring to mind. So what are 3-D printing's prospects like outside the CES bubble?
First, in the next few years, expect to see a brutal culling of the eager startups who were filling the booths on the show floor. One reason is that 3-D printing has evolved from its roots in the volunteer maker movement into a highly competitive business, with much less room for error. Another is that many of these startups are chasing the market for domestic 3-D printers with cheap and cheerful machines. But, in absence of a "killer app" for personal printing, the home market is further off than the hype would suggest, and so many of their efforts will likely prove premature.