Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Evangelizing 3D Printing

This week’s blog is by Julie Reece.

I had the great fortune to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) several days ago. I helped staff the 3D Systems Cubify™ booth in the 3D @Home section of the show, where we unveiled the new create-to-make ecosystem and the new Cube™ in-home 3D printer.

As most of you probably know by now, 3D Systems recently acquired Z Corp, and as a former Z Corper I was accustomed to staffing tradeshow booths targeted solely towards product designers, engineers, educators and architects with ZPrinters and ZScanners.

The CES experience really opened my eyes. The booth was absolutely packed during the entire four days of the show. Knowing that the show is geared towards products for the consumer, I expected visitors to be relatively unfamiliar with 3D printing, let alone the idea of 3D printing themselves, at home. And that certainly was true. People were absolutely blown away by the technology. “You made that with this?!” “This was 3D printed?!” I heard repeatedly, invariably followed by “Woah!” and pleasantly surprised laughter – hysterics actually. “But I don’t know how to make things in 3D CAD,” they would say. “No worries,” I replied, “You can simply download or modify (using incredibly intuitive developer-supplied apps) your file and we’ll print it using our cloud print service for you in any of our technologies, or you can purchase a Cube and simply print it in your home.” Followed by more “Woahs” and laughter and discussions with complete strangers standing next to them. They began to excitedly brainstorm all of the ways they could use 3D printing at home, followed by, “When can I buy one?”

If I had any doubts going into this show about whether or not true, in-home consumer 3D printing is here today, they quickly vanished. Last week I read several blog posts from additive manufacturing industry veterans (mostly engineers by training) who assert that consumer 3D printing is still many years away because the average consumer doesn't know how to design in 3D CAD and, even if they did, what would they use it for?  They miss the point of the Cubify ecosystem of which the Cube 3D printer is merely one (albeit nifty) output device. Cubify is the iTunes and Facebook of the 3D printing world.  The consumer doesn't have to know how to design in 3D CAD in order to have the option of printing at home or using the cloud print service. And if they had stood in the Cubify booth with me at CES, they would have heard all of the ways average consumers would use in-home 3D printing.  People I spoke with talked about simply having fun with in-home 3D printing.  They talked about using it as a teaching mechanism for their young children.  They spoke of printing replacement parts for toys and games and of creating customized trinkets and gifts for family and friends. Understandably, industry veterans wouldn't necessarily view the possibilities from the average consumer's perspective, but from I saw first hand, that demand exists today.
What surprised me the most, however, was the huge percentage of product designers and engineers from very large, well-known companies, who visited our booth and were equally blown away by 3D printing. How could it be that they hadn’t heard of or seen 3D printing, let alone not be using it in their product development processes today? Several admitted to seeing our now-famous viral YouTube video*about the ZScanned and ZPrinted functional wrench, but that’s about it. In fact, after visiting our booth for a few minutes, a number of engineers talked about putting a Cube 3D printer on every engineer’s desk at work for basic form prototyping, in addition to the larger, more industrial-strength 3D printers in their companies’ RP shops.
The excitement about 3D printing, and the Cube among our booth visitors was contagious. Cubify is just what the average consumer has needed to enable them to benefit from 3D printing. And, there’s still a large, untapped business market that must be shown that more robust 3D printing technologies can save time and money in their product design and development processes, and ultimately win business.

When and how did you first hear about 3D printing? When did you see your first 3D printer and first 3D printed part?

*The viral version of this video, with 8.7+ million hits was removed from YouTube.


  1. Great post - I hope many more people from all walks of life read it and get excited. I had the privilege of seeing a ZCorp printer in action in 1997; I was given sample printed parts (and have picked up newer ones over the years), and have shown them to students in classrooms and career fairs ever since. The reaction is always terrific. I also just purchased a pair of unique laser-sintered bronze "steam-punk" gear earrings on Etsy for my daughter, so the 3D printing revolution is spreading, if still slowly. Your choice of CES for a promo was great. Now I imagine the Cubify will exponentially increase recognition of 3D printing's possibilities far outside classic engineering.

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