Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Engaget Expand: 3D Printing Goes Mainstream

Engaget hosted their inaugural event, Engaget Expand, in San Francisco on March 16 and 17.  There were many wonderful things to see there, but I was most excited to see the presentation, "3D Printing Goes Mainstream" with Hod Lipson, Professor of Engineering at Cornell University, Max Lobovsky, Co-Founder, FormLabs, and Avi Reichental, President & CEO of 3D Systems. 

After the talk, I even managed to get my picture taken with Avi Reichental.  I would never want a picture with a pop culture celebrity, but c'mon... this was the CEO of 3D Systems!  I think he was flattered. 

Anyway, I've since learned that 3D Systems was founded in 1986 in Valencia, California, by Chuck Hull, the inventor and patent-holder of the first stereolithography (SLA) rapid prototyping system.  In 2003, Hull was succeeded by Abe Reichental, current CEO. In 2012, both Reichental and Hull were listed among the most influential people in rapid technologies by TCT Magazine.  (It's worth reading the TCT Top 5 Talk Back.)

Here is a link to a January 2013 interview (video included) with Abe Reichental at CES, discussing the promise of consumer 3D printing.

From the talk itself, I found the following noteworthy:

  • The first consumer computers were mainly used for gaming, so it's OK that 3D printers, as a gadget, are there right now.  Eventually, PCs became so easy to use; everyone had one.  We are just not there yet with consumer 3D printing.
  • Currently, there are 62 companies in the consumer 3D printing field. (Here are just a few!) The speakers believe that these companies mostly represent replication, not innovation - yet innovation is where the opportunity lies (esp. in terms of the user experience).  Reichental said that when the software for 3D printing becomes as easy to use as Word, PowerPoint and Adobe software, then it will become relevant.
  • Comment about gamifying CAD... hmm.... I am just starting with middle school kids and 3D printing myself.  Will CAD prove engaging enough on its own?
  • One hurdle for the 3D printer is that not everyone likes making things... unlike a 2D printer - basically everyone needs to print documents at some point or another.
  • Professor Lipson said the next big thing will be the multi-material printer.  He likened it to the revolution of color printing following black and white.
  • And, in case you are holding your breath... 3D Systems is considering a consumer 3D chocolate printer.
  • Why are people drawn to 3D printing?  The panelists point out that people have an "inherent desire to personalize and customize."  They pointed out the extend folks will go to to personalize their clothes, their cars, their hair....
  • Of course, there was discussion of copyright - a virtually unexplored aspect of 3D manufacturing at the consumer level.  One panelist argued that our current copyright system needs to be congruent with current speed of ideas in regards to patents & copyright.
  • Finally, and perhaps most striking for me was the statements that "with unimaginable, comes the unintended."  Isn't that always the case with technology, whatever it may be.  Already, the industry is dealing with controversy around guns and 3D printing.  As fast as controls are put in place, there are people ready to circumvent them.

Don't just take my word on it, you should watch the video:

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