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3D Printing at the Hong Kong Electronics Fair

April 29, 2014 By Kirk Hiner
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I've been following the advancements in 3D printing for a few years now, but it wasn't until he Hong Kong Electronics Fair (spring edition) this month that I saw firsthand just how popular this technology has become.

At the seminar on "3D Printing Development and Applications," Mr. Andrew Young, VP of Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks Corp., cited The Guardian's estimation that 3D printing could be an $8 billion industry by 2020, and challenged our current thinking about 3D printing by stating it could be used by NASA to print pizzas for astronauts to eat in space!

That may come to pass, but here on earth, Dr. John Zhang, Associate Professor of the Department of Computing at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, reported that the 3D printing industry grew 28% in 2012, and suggested that with this technology, the U.S. could beat China in manufacturing within the next 20 years. Many U.S. companies have been utilizing it for quite some time; Boeing, for example, has used 3D printing since 2002. But possible use extends in many different directions.

In the medical field, for example, human teeth could be printed for individual patients, as these couldn't have mass production, anyway, due to the uniqueness of each patient's fit. Artists would be able to print their own creations on order as opposed to relying on expensive third-party services. Parents can print toys for their children, which can be reprinted; no need to buy the toy again if it's broken or lost at day care!

And in one of the more unique services that's already in use, people can take photos to a 3D printer to have them print off 3D representations of the people in the photo. It's a great way to add some depth to a family portrait or vacation snapshots.

During the show, I was able to sit down with Pieter Nartus, senior export manager at Velleman, to discuss their K8200 3D printer. Priced at around $800, it is aimed towards consumer and small business use. It's a build-it-yourself kit that prints objects up to 20x20x20 cm using 1.5mm to 3mm PLA or ABS filament. You might shy away from building the printer yourself, but Pieter assured me it's quite easy, and the printer can connect to your PC, Mac or Linux computer with Repetier software.

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