CES 2018: Disruptive Technologies and Fun PC Stuff


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Two disruptive technologies that we have been covering for the last few years are 3D printing—especially as it pertains to PCB fab—and autonomous driving.

3D printing has been around for a few years, but it seems like 3D printers were introduced to CES very recently. I saw one of the first units shown in 2012 which was by MakerBot (2012 is the middle ages when you realize how fast technology has progressed in the last six years). This year there were almost 50 exhibitors showing their latest offerings. Most of them were in SF23Dprogress.jpgthe LVCC in the north hall at the 3D Printing Marketplace. Many of them were “me too” versions of what we have seen for the last few years with about 30% of them being from China. (Note: At CES this year, 482 exhibitors had the word Shenzhen as part of their name.) However, the sample objects being printed were more professional and realistic than in past years. But the reaction from those walking the area was a lot more ho-hum.

SF2skull.jpgThe applications for 3D printing that seem to garner the most interest, especially in our industry, are 3D printed circuits (conductors and insulation) and 3D printed metal parts. Still, most of what was being shown was an attempt to get the "Oh, wow" reaction.

This year, the company that we feel is one of the leaders in 3D additive PCB fab, Nano Dimension, was not exhibiting. When I asked whether they were going to be there, I was informed that this show was not focused on their market, and they are correct. They focus on 3D circuit production and, after all, a printed circuit does not have the wow effect that many go to CES to see. It does seem SF2PCB.jpgthat their DragonFly PCB printer is gaining ground, and we will be covering them as well as others in the PCB 3D manufacturing arena in more detail as the year progresses.

It seems that 3D printing at CES has run its course, very much as 3D TV had a few years ago, and although there were some great showings, it is no longer a prime target for major 3D printer vendors. Still, let’s look at a few notable exhibitors.

SF2markforgedparts.jpgOne company that I find impressive is Markforged, which specializes in composite 3D printing. Their focus seems to be on carbon fiber as well as metal printed parts. They claim to be able to print parts “from aluminum to titanium to carbon fiber as well as composites.”

A familiar name, but not one usually associated with advanced manufacturing, is Polaroid. SF2polaroid.jpgDeclaring bankruptcy some time ago, it re-emerged as a new corporation using the same name. They entered the 3D printing arena at CES 2016 with the launch of their first 3D printer. They showed some new units last year and again in 2018 showing another new range of 3D printers. Their easy-to-use models offer many 3D printing options. They are all compact, with sleek designs, and bear the unmistakable Polaroid classic border logo. These new units make 3D printing SF2Polaroidnano.jpgaccessible to anyone who wants to easily 3D-print artwork, models, and parts at home, in the classroom, or at the office—just as they did half a century ago for home photographers. It is good to see them back.

There is no doubt that 3D printing is now becoming more mainstream and that the real applications will not be printed toys but real items and parts. Will it really be a disruptive technology as we have all be predicting for years, or just an alternative but growing process segment that will be incorporated into the PCB fab industry for specific needs such as fast turn-around prototypes and short runs? I predict the latter.

Let’s move on to one of the most disruptive technologies that we may see in our lifetimes. Something that may be almost as disruptive as the first manned flights over a century ago, that being autonomous driving. This is a topic we have been watching for the last five years with truly driverless vehicles becoming not only viable but now expected. As we will be covering this topic in great depth in a separate article soon, I will highlight the more interesting announcements and show some of the amazing advancements and cars at CES.

By definition, “An autonomous car (driverless car, self-driving car, robotic car) is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input.”

Are you looking forward to having a driverless car in the next five years or so, or using a driverless Uber-type of transportation service? Do you hate the thought of the entire concept?

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