Wednesday, December 28, 2011

3D Printing in 2012 and Beyond

This week's blog post is by John Kawola, Z Corporation CEO.
2011 was an eventful year for Z Corporation and the 3D printing/additive manufacturing industry worldwide. There is continued strong demand for prototypes, tools, fixtures….all the parts that this industry has been about for the past 20 years. But perhaps more importantly, 3D printing/additive manufacturing is beginning to really make a move to users and applications outside of the engineer trying to see if two parts fit together.

We see architects building a model of a new project, walking into the selection committee and winning the business. We see sales and marketing folks using printed models to attract new clients. We see printed parts being used for real end-use medical applications. We see consumers beginning to experience this industries capabilities through access to parts on-line or with very low cost 3D printer kits. We see 3D printing/additive manufacturing transforming the way that industries think about design, both functional and aesthetic. 2011 was a year where 3D printing/additive manufacturing really started to capture wider public awareness. Unlike any prior year, 3D printing/additive manufacturing really made its way into the mainstream press and consciousness.

In 2011, Z Corporation agreed to be acquired by 3D Systems. This transaction is expected to close early in 2012. We embrace the efforts by the 3D Systems team to think beyond one technology and beyond being simply a machine manufacturer. For 3D printing/additive manufacturing to continue to grow, new applications and new users will need to be continually brought into the mix. They will require software to learn and be creative. They will require printers that are affordable and easy to use. They will require on-line service providers that will deliver parts through the mail as easily and simply as ordering digital photographs today. We are excited to be part of this revolution, to bring our style of 3D printing into the mix and to contribute in any way we can.

We expect that all of the trends that we saw in 2011 will continue to grow and expand in 2012. The use of 3D printers in education and architecture will become a normal part of what people expect. A custom 3D printed part will become common as birthday, anniversary and workplace gifts. New engineers for the first time will really begin to optimize their designs based on the fact that AM removes practically all manufacturing constraints. All of these trends bode for a strong and bright future for this industry.

I am excited to be a part of it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Best of 3D Printing in 2011

This week's blog is by Scott Harmon, Z Corporation's VP of Business Development.
Lots of things have happened in 2011. We would like to take this chance to look back at some of them and see what changed in the past 12 months.

Social Media has arrived in this industry. You might recall the National Geographic video featuring Z Corp and the famous wrench that went viral with over 8.7 million views! Social media wouldn’t seem to be an obvious fit for technical industries like Engineering and Product Design. Still we’re seeing it all over. Dassault and Autodesk have all made major commitments, as have the major RP vendors. Personally, I think this is great. The key to social media is great content. Companies that create great content succeed in social media. Frankly, if companies in the industry are spending more resources creating great content, and less resources on advertisements and trade show booths, I think that’s a net positive.

CAD Tools for the Consumer. We’re definitely seeing an explosion in free CAD tools. It’s going from a trickle to a flood. Blender has been around for a while. Sketch Up has certainly made a splash, but now everyone is in on the action. Established players like Autodesk (123D and 123D Sculpt) and Dassault (3D Via).It’s pretty obvious that a number of important organizations are focused on massively increasing the number of people who can create 3D content.

Design for Re-Design. I personally love this. Many people will be interested in designing and making their own things. However, I believe that many more will want to start with something that is designed to be re-designed. They will want some basic platform that allows them to customize a design for themselves, a way to creating without CAD. Vizardz (, Shapeways (, Kodama Studios ( and i.materialise ( have all launched services like this. Keep an eye on them.

Simple Sketching. The flip side of creating free tools for the consumer, is creating simpler / faster tools for professionals. Catia’s Natural Sketch, PTC’s Creo, Spaceclaim are all tools designed to make 3d modeling faster and easier for the professional user. It appears that all the major vendors are trying to push 3D earlier in the design process. At Z Corp, we obviously think that’s really important. Waiting until you have a fully parameterized 3D model before you protype is so last decade. Fail faster to succeed sooner.

The Cloud. Obviously everyone is talking about the Cloud. Frankly, I find a lot of the cloud stuff pretty irritating. I don’t really want to think about whether my key projects are stored in the cloud or on my machine, and I sure as heck don’t want to be separated from my work because of a dodgy internet collection. Having said that, the Cloud does really help with one key aspect of engineering design – collaboration. It’s obvious that product design is among the most collaborative disciplines around. It touches every part of the organization, and the best in class involve other parts of the organization early in the process. The cloud enables that collaboration. Time to get on board.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Z Corp being acquired by 3D Systems was big news in this industry. I think we have two great tastes that will taste even better together. That should make for an exciting 2012.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nothing Says ‘Happy Holidays’ Like Customized 3D Printed Gifts

Today’s blog is by Julie Reece, Z Corporation’s Director of Marketing Communications.

Amidst the excitement leading up to the holidays, there is always that moment when I sit in a quiet place, make a list of everyone to whom I will give a gift, and begin the daunting task of identifying that perfect gift for each of those people and writing it in the space next to his/her name.
Each gift must be something different from prior years, something personal - yet I confess given my hectic schedule, something quick and easy, and something that won’t break the bank.

Sound familiar?

Then an epiphany. Why haven’t I thought of this sooner? After all, I work for a 3D printing company! I’m talking about customized 3D printed items. What kind of items? Here’s just a sampling:

How about a unique, full color 3D printed robot? They’re all the buzz this season! You don’t have to know anything about 3D design to quickly create and order your customized 3D printed robots, and they’re incredibly affordable. Visit

Or, how about a customized World of Warcraft® or Xbox Live® avatar for your favorite gamer? Simply order a 3D printed replica of your loved one’s actual game avatar, including the avatar’s name, customized position, clothing, accessories, etc. Visit

Here’s a unique idea, a 3D printed map of a meaningful place…perhaps it’s a memorable vacation spot, a hiking or cycling trail they conquered, or the spot where they were married. uses an intuitive online tool that enables you to select the type of map you want, as well as the precise geographic location. You can even personalize it with a message or label.

The next idea requires you to have a Twitter account, but it is as fun to use and give as it is to receive. It’s a 3D printed snowman called Frstee (yes, I assure you the name spelling is correct). But it’s not just any snowman, the appearance of the snowman you receive is directly related to various characteristics of your Twitter account, including your username, number of followers, and number of years you’ve used Twitter.
If none of those items appeal to you, but you like the idea of giving a unique 3D printed item as a gift, check out these sites, that offer a variety of multicolor 3D printed items, such as figurines, statues, avatars, key rings, USB flash drives, frames, lamps, and so much more:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Color 3D Printing for the Holidays: Advent Calendar

This week’s blog post is by Julie Reece, Z Corporation’s Director of Marketing Communications.
It’s finally December! And no matter where you’re from around the world, that means the myriad of December holidays are quickly approaching. A tradition here at Z Corp. is to have fun with some of the symbols of the season. This year, we created an advent calendar using 3D printed models.

Here are the first few days of the advent calendar, in case you missed them:

Day 1 - Santa Hat
Day 2 - Snowflake
Day 3 - Gingerbread Cookie
Day 4 (and my favorite) - Gift
Day 5 - Christmas Pig
Day 6 - Snowman
Day 7 - Snowball Lantern

Of course, we can create these beautiful holiday-themed models because our 3D printers (ZPrinters) uniquely offer a multicolor 3D printing capability and, well, because we like to infuse fun into our daily responsibilities. Enjoy!

If you’d like any of these files, simply send me an email at

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

3D Printing Saves Lives

Today’s blog is by Julie Reece, Z Corporation’s Director of Marketing Communications.

I recently came across yet another inspiring story about how researchers and students are continually innovating with 3D printing technology in pursuit of life-saving applications. This one comes from The University of California Berkeley where they are using 3D printing to accelerate the evolution of a new medical device that promises to deliver safe, non-invasive angiography.

Called X-space Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI), the technology will let doctors look inside the heart and brain without the dangers of radiation, iodine, guide wires or catheters, according to Patrick Goodwill, University of California Berkeley research associate and developer of both the theory and first X-space MPI scanner. The MPI scanner detects nanoparticles spotlighted by benign iron oxide tracers injected into the bloodstream.

Goodwill and a team of graduate engineering students in the Conolly Labratory use the ZPrinter® 150 to create parts for MPI scanner prototypes that can image small animals. These devices are precursors to human-scale scanners.

“Since we’re building the world’s first MPI scanners, we can’t just buy parts off the shelf,” said Goodwill. “We’re using the ZPrinter to manufacture parts such as transmit coils, receive coils, heated animal beds and even custom components for delivering animal anesthesia. Every scanner we’ve built has incorporated at least two or three ZPrinted parts.”

Graduate Students Print Parts Every Day for Magnetic Particle Imaging Scanner Prototypes, Saving Weeks of Waiting and Thousands of Dollars

Goodwill purchased the ZPrinter after trying Dimension 3D printers, which were expensive –costing up to $1,500 per part in materials – and time consuming, taking as much as 20 hours to make a single part. He found that the ZPrinter creates parts in half the time, at a fraction of the price, and even produces multiple parts in each build cycle. “We can build 30 parts for the price of one,” Goodwill said.

“ZPrinting is the fastest way we can create the parts we need to rapidly iterate our design so we can bring MPI to the general public sooner,” Goodwill said. “We train all our students on SolidWorks® CAD software and have them manufacture their own parts. Now, whenever we have an inspiration, we try it out with a real part. We never have to leave the lab.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's a Great Time to Be an Entrepreneur!

This week's blog is by Scott Harmon, Z Corporation's VP of Business Development.

I was invited to give a talk at Northeastern University’s Global Entrepreneurship Week. I have to say, it’s a great time to be an entrepreneur.

Most of you are familiar by now with the basic idea that 3D printing is a great way to lower the cost and time required to bring a product to market. Entrepreneurs feel the pressure to bring their products to market faster and at lower cost even more acutely than engineers and designers at other kinds of firms. That is after all the key mandate of the entrepreneur – do it faster, and do it for less. When you are pre-revenue, you have no choice.

Of course, many entrepreneurs do not come from the ranks of engineers and designers. Generally they are unaware of the power of the prototype. They frequently make the mistake of starting with a short run of production parts from a low cost manufacturing environment. Big mistake.

What I found fascinating was the enormous array of tools beyond 3D printers that have evolved to make the lives of entrepreneurs easier. All of them focused on lowering the cost and time required to being a product to market. Professor Tucker Marion from Northeastern University presented an enormous array of tools that are cost effective and incredibly useful to start ups. Everything from low cost project management and collaboration, to sites like Elance and Guru that help you find talent in specific niches, to sourcing vendors catering specifically to the needs of start-ups. An entire economy is growing up to aid those trying to bring new products to market.

One thing I know very specifically: regardless of what government does or doesn’t do, the fastest way to grow ourselves out of the current recession is to unleash the creativity of our people. All these tools, 3D printers included, contribute to the efforts of creative people who are trying to bring new and innovative products to market. It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How Can You Use In-House 3D Printing to Work Smarter, Not Harder?

Today’s guest blog comes from Julie Reece, Z Corporation’s Director of Marketing Communications.

Last month I was in the UK for TCT Live 2011. During the show I had the privilege of listening to a presentation by Ben White, Sr. Product Design Engineer at Integra Products (UK manufacturer of window dressing solutions) about how Integra uses 3D printing, not only throughout the product design and development process, but also across the organization, to cut their design cycle by weeks and their product costs by thousands, and even ship greener products. Integra uses physical 3D printed models, example, to refine concepts, ensure fit and function, communicate effectively with partners, and quickly create mold patterns.

Integra previously used a service bureau for its prototypes, but they decided to invest in a Z Corp. 3D printer after realizing they could save time, money and rework by making their own prototypes in house versus using a service bureau. Integra now prints as many as 25 models overnight, rather than waiting as long as seven days for prototypes from the service bureau. They reduced prototyping costs by 85 to 90 percent compared to the service bureau’s fees for SLS prototypes.

White says,

“Our ZPrinter saves us time and money at every step. The biggest savings is getting things right before we invest in tooling. Instead of waiting 40 days for tooling and then seeing if we like our samples, our ZPrinter helps us ensure, before the fact, that our products are going to work, fit with adjacent components, and look great. That can eliminate errors that would otherwise cost us thousands of dollars.”

Integra’s use of ZPrinting includes:

Concept modeling – A powerful use of ZPrinting at Integra involves meeting with customers to refine designs and handing them a prototype reflecting the newest input. “Most of our customers haven’t seen this technology and don’t know that it exists,” said White. “It confirms our edge in technology and innovation, and embodies our mission to work smarter, not harder.”

Enhancing Communication Across the Company – ZPrinting’s quick turnaround helps Integra engineers convey information that doesn’t come across in their computer renderings. With 3D printed models, designers, marketers and salespeople can fully grasp the proportions between the finial (decorative pole end) and the curtain pole. ZPrinted models also more effectively depict complex shapes, such as decorative spheres, to manufacturing partners who can’t fully understand the intent from the digital drawings. Similarly, ZPrinting helps Integra designers ensure that seams and joints aren’t visible in the finished product.

Moldmaking – ZPrinting quickly creates molds for the rapid creation of silicon molds and quick patterns for sand casting. These capabilities cut the 10-week development cycle to four weeks.

Sustainability – In addition to saving time, money and errors in development, White’s team is finding ways to cut costs on actual product materials. “ZPrinting has enabled us to reduce material through extensive testing of prototypes,” White said. “As a result, a recently redesigned plastic curtain hook is now stronger and easier to use, while reducing consumer waste by 500 kilograms per year. ZPrinting is helping us to fulfill our responsibility of being a good neighbor while minimizing our carbon footprint.”

Watch video presentation about Integra’s use of 3D printing delivered by Ben White of Integra at TCT Live last month.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How Does Your Company Use Creativity to Create Value?

This week's blog is by Scott Harmon, Z Corporation VP of Business Development.

Z Corporation recently adopted a new mission, and the timing couldn’t be better. Z Corp.’s mission is to help our customers Create more – more ideas, more communication, more innovation.

I gave a presentation last week at the Connected Health Symposium in Boston, and it occurred to me that you can read Create more in two ways – with more as an adjective to describe the things a reader might create, or with more as an adverb exhorting the reader to use their creative powers more.

The difference is subtle, but important. A recent IBM study, in which 1500 CEO’s from around the world participated, had some very interesting findings. The first finding was that complexity was most commonly identified as their biggest challenge. The second was that their companies are not well equipped the deal with the complexity they face. The third was that they viewed creativity as the single most important leadership competency for dealing with complexity.

Complexity is the burden of reading more as an adjective. Growth means more new products designed to serve more new markets with more new customers. All of that adds complexity to an organization. Creativity is the opportunity enabled by reading more as an adverb. By using our creative talents and tools more effectively we deliver greater value to our customers, and hopefully reduce complexity.

We’re happy to support both kinds of creators. With the most productive 3D printers in the world, we enable creators who are relentlessly focused on developing lots of new products in hyper-competitive fields. Our low cost of operation also enables a different kind of creator. A creator who may care less about quantity, but wants to try lots and lots of different ideas in order to identify the one that cuts through.

So what kind of creativity does your company value?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Z Corp. and Kodama Studios Bring You “My Robot Nation,” 3D Creation for Everyone

Today’s blog is by Julie Reece, Z Corporation’s Director of Marketing Communications.
While many invoke the vision of 3D printers in the home, the reality is that until now, the ability to design and print your own creations in 3D has required expert knowledge in 3D CAD software. Mark Danks and Sarah Stocker, game industry veterans and the founders of Kodama Studios, are changing all of that.

Leveraging their unique experience in video game development and the latest browser technologies in HTML5.0 and WebGL, Kodama has put the joy of play into creating in 3D. A featured application on the new Google Chrome Store, provides you with the ability to go online, design and create a personalized robot collectible using a combination of 3D Web graphics and fast, affordable, and multicolor 3D printing.

Virtually anyone, not just experienced designers, can easily design their own personalized 3D robot creation that can then be printed as a high-quality figurine by Offload Studios, in vibrant color, on a Z Corp. 3D printer (ZPrinter). You can choose from more than 9 billion combinations of body shapes, limbs, colors, decals, and attachments. Video. Check out some photos of robots that have been created so far.

In his exclusive CNET article about the beta launch of, Daniel Terdiman includes this quote from Stocker:

“At My Robot Nation, we believe that everyone is creative, and everyone can create – we all just need a fun and easy way to get started. Youtube, Facebook and Twitter show us how creative everyone can be digitally – we’re giving people an amazing new way to bring that creativity into the real world. Robots are only the beginning – the My Robot Nation platform is designed to be flexible and allow for the creation and customization of objects of any type. 3D printing is a revolution in creation and we want everyone to have access to it – now!”

ZPrinters are already being used to create animation characters for Pixar and personalized avatars for World of Warcraft gamers, expanding the creative possibilities for consumers and computer graphics professionals.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Tricks, Treats, and 3D Printing for Halloween

This week’s guest blog is by Julie Reece, Z Corporation’s Director of Marketing Communications.

3D print of my face in honor of Halloween, because it’s just a bit creepy.
Every Halloween, we like to have a little fun here at Z Corp. There’s nothing like tricks, treats, and, yes, 3D printed models created on a Z Corp. ZPrinter to add some zest to Halloween.

I thought that multicolor, fully-textured, 3D printed Jack-O-Lanterns and a skull named Jane would do just the trick (pun intended).


Fully-functional ZPrinted Halloween decoration

ZPrinted Jack-O-Lantern

ZPrinted pumpkin

ZPrinted Jane (it’s a long story)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

High School Students Have 'The Best Field Trip Ever!' Learning about 3D Design & 3D Printing at Z Corporation

Today's blog is from Scott Harmon, Z Corporation VP of Business Development.
With great fanfare we kicked off the EngineeringZONE program last week. Twenty-five students and three faculty members, led by June Krinsky Rudder from Revere High School, came to visit. After a brief introduction to the company, we split them into three groups. Each group moved through three different segments.

In the first segment, students got a tour of the manufacturing facility, led by our VP of Manufacturing, Matt Mandia. Z Corporation has been manufacturing 3D printers right here in Massachusetts for more than 10 years. We ship those printers all over the globe. Although labor costs are higher here, we get very talented assemblers who don’t just put things together, they actively participate in discussions about how we can design things so that manufacturing is less expensive and easier to do. The students saw our KanBan system for lean inventory control which also keeps costs down.
The students also got some hands on time with the printers and the prototypes themselves. Most of them had never seen a 3D printer or the output from a 3D printer. In our demo room, they saw all the printers in our line, as well as prototypes from just about every discipline we sell to. We had students who were interested in engineering, architecture, animation, digital media, medicine, etc. Fortunately, we have lots of different examples of prototypes and customers from all those different disciplines.
Students then learned why 3D printers are so popular with engineers, designers, architects, animators, etc. "Failing Faster to Succeed Sooner" is a message that resonated. Engineers, designers and architects, in particular, try to generate and test lots of ideas early in their design processes so they’re not fixing things later, when it’s more costly.

As a special treat, Z Corp. worked with to let each student create their own robots during their visit. If you haven’t seen this application, you should. It’s really cool. Using a browser (Chrome and Firefox work best), you can actually design a robot and have it 3D printed. No CAD required. The application just went to public beta on the Google App Store. Best of all, in conjunction with My Robot Nation and Offload Studios, we’ll be providing each student with a 3D print of their robot.

More Photos


If you’re interested in bringing a class of students to Z Corp. as part of our EngineeringZONE program for the “best field trip ever!” (June’s words, not mine), please contact Olimpio DeMarco at

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Functional 3D Printed Clock

This week's blog is by John Luongo, Z Corporation Associate Engineer.

As a machinist and engineer; mechanical time pieces have always fascinated me. They are a perfect meld of both skill sets. I’ve been collecting them for ten plus years.

Sometime ago, I found a website where a gentleman from the U.K. shared his passion for wooden pendulum clocks. For a small fee he sent me a copy of the .iges files. I converted them to .stl and 3D printed the components half scale on a Z Corporation ZPrinter. I used zp150 composite resin for the build material and ZMax to finish them off.

I’ll have to admit that Generation 1 was a bear to assemble because of all the parts.

After I assembled the parts, I modified the models (Generation 2) by adding contrasting colors and subassemblies to the design and ZPrinted them in full color (orange and black - just in time for Halloween!).

Doing so reduced the part count from over seventy pieces to under twenty, and it works! I’ve learned so much from doing this. Stay tuned for Gen 3!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's Just Cool

Today's blog is from Scott Harmon, Z Corporation VP of Business Development.

OK. This week’s blog is not strictly MCAD related. Perhaps it falls more into the ‘It's just cool’ segment of our offering.

Obviously we’re always on the lookout for tools that help designers, engineers, and creative people in general to Create more™. This week we came across a really cool new tool that does just that. Autodesk releases 123D Sculpt for iPad. It’s a free app in the Apple App Store. It’s very cool, and really quite an amazing creative tool.

I have never seen a software application that is as easy to use for organic surface modeling, coloring and texturing as 123D. It’s really extraordinary. Did I mention it’s free? Autodesk has done an impressive job of utilizing the capabilities of the iPad (touch screen, multi-touch, etc.), and keeping the user experience really simple. There are only a handful of tools for modifying geometry, but when you get the hang of them, they are quite powerful.

Just as amazing as the ability to create compelling geometry is the ability to use color and even textures. The way textures work is especially clever. You essentially take texture maps from the library (or pictures you take yourself), place them over the shape, and then ‘rub’ the texture onto the surface. When you put all that together and add a creative mind you get content that is really compelling. You can check out some examples at

There is, sadly, one thing missing. You can do all kinds of 2D exports, but no 3D exports. No 3D exports for a 3D sculpting tool? Cynics might say that Autodesk just wants to protect their more expensive products. I’m not sure I agree. Exporting textures, meshes, etc. is not trivial. I suspect they wanted to push it out quickly to see what happens. They’ve already started adding premium content for a small fee. I suspect and hope we’ll see it added as an option in the future.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Student Creates More with 3D Printing, Carbon Fiber and Fiberglass

Today's guest blog is by Scott Harmon, Z Corporation's VP of Business Development.
One of the most enjoyable things about working at Z Corp. is hearing about what students do with our technology. When you combine a 3D printer’s freedom to create with the unconstrained mind of a student, sometimes you get really amazing results.

One of my recent favorites comes from Red River College in Winnipeg, Canada. Serge Broeska, a student at Red River under the guidance of Leon Fainstein, recently got an article published in a prestigious industry journal called JEC Composites. The subject of their article: “A New Means of Making Dissolvable Mandrels and Patterns, Otherwise Known as ‘Rapid Prototype Composite Tooling’".

In essence, Serge and Prof. Fainstein used 3D printed parts from a Z Corp. 3D printer to make a pattern around which they applied carbon fiber and fiberglass. After the composites had cured, they simply washed the pattern out with water. In the project technical report, they documented huge (90%) savings in time and money to create a composite part vs. traditional tooling methods. In the article, they describe making a frame component, a handlebar, and a water bottle holder using this method.

Thanks to their creativity and hard work, they now have a handful of major composite manufacturers interested in further developing their research.

As cool as this particular application is, the cooler thing is that literally thousands of new students all over the world are using this technology every year. What will they create next?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Using 3D Printing in a Vacuum Forming Process to Help Patients

Through a colleague here at Z Corp. I was made aware of an innovative company here in the Boston area called Radlab Inc., a multidisciplinary design and fabrication consulting firm. Founder Matthew Trimble describes a process for using 3D printed parts in a vacuum forming process.

Matt writes, “As Radlab has been developing a new bilateral hand rehabilitation device for Novokinetics, we've been testing new techniques in vacuum forming with 3D printed molds. For this particular application we started with a 'positive' Z Corp. 3D printed mold. The impetus for our process came from a desire to design and produce workable prototypes of potential wrist cushion variations. As a patient engages with the device, our hope is that their wrist would be comfortably elevated to the necessary height. After the molds were printed they were coated with a release. This is an important step to ensure that the styrene can be separated from the 3D print without significant deformation. We used a 1/16” white styrene for thermoforming. Once we extracted our thermoformed 'negative' we could move to the final stage of casting clear liquid urethane to create the actual pad. The process worked out well for us and we plan to continue using Z Corp. 3D prints for mold making in the future.”

There is a nicely produced video that includes the vacuum forming steps on their site:

It is always great to see 3D printing used in interesting applications. Thanks Matthew for your contribution to this blog and stay innovative!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Are You Ready To Be A Rock Star?

Today's guest blog is by Scott Harmon,  Z Corporation's VP of Business Development.

We had a big announcement with Shapeways last week. They have improved the quality of their Z Corp. output. It looks really great. I’ve spoken with them a few times, and it appears that they were using a 3rd party solution that was causing problems for them. They’re now using standard Z Corporation processes, and getting great results.

From the beginning, many Z Corp. types (myself included) were pretty skeptical about Shapeways. That has traditionally been a very challenging business in which to build scale. In general, there’s a lot of complexity to go with a relatively small scale. That’s a tough combination. Still, when you’re wrong, you’re wrong. I’ll admit it, I was wrong. Shapeways has done a really impressive job creating a whole new market for 3D printed goods.

So what are they doing right and what does it mean to you?

First of all, I think they’re doing a really great job of building communities. They are very open in their communications. They take their beatings and their compliments with equal seriousness. This has clearly led to faster rate of improvement than many companies. Their feedback loop from order, to production, to customer, to community is just days. When all your customers can see any customers’ feedback (in nearly real time), it provides an added incentive to get things right.

Second, they’ve created very smart incentives to attract designers to make cool products. The challenge with 3D printing has always been that so few people know how to really draw in 3D. Shapeways wisely turned that liability into an advantage by incenting designers to post their work and make money on it. I have no idea what their mix is between placed by the designers themselves vs. orders placed by other customers, but that mix is the key to scalability in this business, and I suspect it is moving in the right direction.

So what does that mean to you, designers and engineers of the world? I’d look to the world of media for answers. Ten years ago, star musicians and actors/actresses, controlled and promoted by a small stable of media conglomerates, made an enormous amount of money, and the rest were largely out in the cold. Today, there are still serious stars that make serious money, but the playing field has leveled, and a much broader range of talent has far more access to ‘success’ than a decade ago.

In the world of design/engineering, the record companies and movie studios have been replaced by multinational product development companies. They are generally the arbiters of good design and employers of the bulk of engineers and designers in the world. Shapeways, and companies like Shapeways, could level that playing field. If you’re outstanding in design, animation, or engineering, your path to consumers just got a lot smoother. There are people sitting at home in their pajamas making tens of thousands of dollars selling their work on sites like this. OK, that’s probably not the life of David Lee Roth, but it beats being Dilbert.

So, are you ready to be a rock star?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Copiers vs. Creators

Today's guest post is from Scott Harmon, Z Corporation VP of Business Development.

Lately, some interesting people (Ars Technica; Public Knowledge) have started to illuminate the challenges that 3D printers pose to copyright, trademark and patent law. Not surprisingly, IP lawyers are starting to chime in (; as well.

As the makers of the only color 3D printers in the world, the issues are especially relevant. With other printing technologies you can make an object in the same shape as someone else’s work. With our technology, you get the shape and color. Not exactly a replicator, but pretty close.

This debate largely forms around two camps. One camp says that IP laws are critical because they ensure that inventors and creative get benefit from their creations, which provides incentive to create. The other camp says IP laws slow innovation because the owners of the IP are more incented to protect it than to evolve it, and other are prevented from doing so. Clearly both camps are correct.

I was talking to a gentleman at SIGGRAPH who makes and sells models through Turbosquid and other 3D content libraries. He was bemoaning the fact that other ‘artists’ will download a copy of his model, change a few things, and then upload a new model for sale at one third of the cost. That stinks. And, as we have seen, it’s a serious problem for just about all digital media.

3D printing, however, is not a digital media. I believe that the IP problem in 3D printing has already resolved itself. A 3D printer is an excellent tool for creating one new thing (i.e.; a prototype), but a poor tool for copying things in volume (a batch of counterfeit Storm Troopers).

Will the large IP holders care if an occasional one-off copy of their content gets made? Is there any financial incentive for an IP copier to make lots and lots of copies using a 3D printer? I suspect the answer in both cases is ‘no.’ There will certainly be IP violations using 3D printing, but the likelihood that it ever gets to the level of what’s happening in music, video, software, etc. is pretty small.

The more interesting question might be, “How will IP owners, consumer / creators and 3D printers work together to personalize existing IP to create more value for everyone?”  What do you think?

Create More. Copy Less.