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