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.


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