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.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Rest of the Story: 3DTouch 3D Printer Prints Bigger

Today's blog is by Julie Reece.

A few days ago I read a Washington Post article called Saddle your horses and fire up the 3D printer.  The article was meant to report on consumer 3D printers based on the author's visit to CES 2012. 

To be fair however, the story compared the wrong products to Makerbot's new Replicator 3D printer and omitted the Replicator's most formidable rival, Bits From Bytes 3DTouch 3D printer.

Here's the rest of that story. 

3DTouch Prints Bigger

Bits From Bytes line of affordable 3D printers and kits have offered the category's largest build envelope for two years. And while I applaud the 300 cubic inch build volume of Makerbot’s recently announced Replicator, the 3DTouch, launched last year, beats the Replicator hands down.

The 3DTouch is easy to use, comes with a choice of one, two or three print heads and was the first 3D printer to offer an intuitive touch screen user interface. The clean lines, acrylic frame and internal electronics means the you won’t have to hide it - you can proudly display your 3D printer for all to see.

No need to tinker – set up your job and touch 'print!' Use your time to create more!

The 3DTouch boasts a total build area over 950 cubic inches – more than three times that of the Replicator. The 3DTouch allows you to print in up to three different materials at the same time. With a total build area of over 950 cubic inches and up to 3 print heads, the 3DTouch prints bigger and bolder. See the 3DTouch in Action! Also check out this video of a tennis cup printed on the 3DTouch.

Here are a few examples:

'Lotus' printed on Bits From Bytes 3DTouch, 240 mm diameter,  170 mm tall

'World Globe' printed on Bits From Bytes 3DTouch, 7.25 X 6.75 inches
'Hagia Sophia' printed on Bits From Bytes 3DTouch,
7.1 X 8.7 X 5.4 inches

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is 2012 the Year of Consumer 3D Printing?

I just returned from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and what a show it is - thousands of exhibitors, tens of thousands of visitors, and at least that a million TV’s on display. I think the Samsung booth alone had 5,000 TV’s in it.

In case you missed the news, 3D Systems new Cube™ 3D printer was named a Finalist for the CES Best in Show award. This culminates the heaviest concentration of main stream press articles about 3D printing since I have been in the industry. Mainstream press like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist, Christian Science Monitor, ABC News, have all covered a variety of 3D printing angles in the past year. The mainstream technology press has dug in as well with CNET, Engadget, and PCPro all carrying articles about 3D printing. We even had our first viral video on YouTube. It would certainly seem that 3D Printing has arrived, so will this be The Year?

Who knows? To be honest, I don’t know if we will know. 3D printing is a technology that already touches millions and millions of people. From athletic shoes to hearing aids to jewelry to dentistry to aerospace and automotive, 3D printing has changed new product design and affected the lives of what must be hundreds of millions of people. How will we know when consumer 3D printing has really arrived?

Clearly media articles mean little. Plenty of ink has been wasted on novel ideas that disappeared onto the scrap heap of history. The home 3D printers are very cool, but do thousands or even tens of thousands of those really mean anything? It still feels like 3D printers are extremely cool tools in the hands of a small group of pros. Barry Collins at PCPro opined that 3D printing needs a killer app. I think the pros will find their own killer apps, but I suspect the regular consumer is going to need some help. Hopefully the application layer on creates space for the pros to share their killer apps with regular consumers. Other sites out there like Shapeways and MyRobotNation are also showing what regular consumers can do with a little help.

Will all the media attention and some new killer apps lead millions of regular consumers to buy 3D prints and 3D printers in 2012? There’s never been a better time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reality Redesigned Contest Will Bring Students' Inventions to Life with 3D Printed Prototypes and Drive Curriculum

Today's blog is by Julie Reece.
We are sponsoring “Reality Redesigned,” a student-focused design competition and online reality show that will spawn daring new mountain bike designs created by inventive riders.

The show bills itself as “the ultimate design contest … what happens when the biggest names in North American manufacturing, design and engineering throw open the doors and allow both mountain bikers and designers alike to have at it.” In addition to entertainment, the episodes will serve as solid curriculum material for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers across North America.

The contest will spotlight the design process from drawing board to finished product.

Our Technical Support Specialist and expert mountain bike rider Dave Mee will “ZPrint” prototypes of three finalists in three categories, in preparation for a showdown at the RAPID 2012 Conference May 22-25, 2012. The winner will be announced live at our booth. The winning design will then be manufactured and tested by a pro rider.
“Reality Redesigned” is produced by host and Executive Producer Jeremy Bout and others involved in “The Edge Factor Show,” who are joining forces with Pinkbike, one of the top mountain bike sites in the world. Here’s how it works:

Submissions (mid-December through Feb. 24, 2012). After registering for Pinkbike (free), contestants will place their submission into one of three categories.

1. Mountain-bike suspension

2. Mountain-bike component

3. Mountain-bike frame

Screening (ongoing). Submissions will be scored by Bout and qualified experts from the mountain-bike industry. A real-time leaderboard will track the top 15 designs in each category.

The Gauntlet (April/May 2012). Experts determine how designs will stand up to a real-life scenario, then grade each based on research, material pricing and specific criteria:

1. 3D Modeling – Fit, form and function.

2. Rapid Prototyping – (usefulness, rideability) – Judges; Mee and professional rider Mike Montgomery. Mee will “ZPrint” the entries of three finalists in each category. 3D printing converts three-dimensional computer-aided design data into physical prototypes.

3. Engineering/Business plan

4. Manufacturability

Finals (May 22-25, 2012). At the RAPID 2012 Conference, three final designs will be displayed and judged, in three episodes shot with a live audience in our booth. The judging will include stringent and rigorous testing using finite element analysis (FEA) software and ZPrinted prototypes. The winner will be announced in our booth.

Epilogue: The winning design will be manufactured and tested by a pro rider.

“ZPrinting is a center-stage component of the show, inspiring innovation and bringing contestants’ designs to reality,” said Bout. “With physical models, judges and industry manufacturers can more deeply understand a design, and what it will be able to do on the trail. ZPrints will also expose students to technology they will use in their engineering careers.”

“Reality Redesigned” is just one example of 3D Systems ongoing commitment to education in addition to its EngineeringZONE™ program, sponsorships and education discounts.

To enter the contest:

Our judge, Dave Mee, was featured in episode 2.

In addition, don't miss Dave's blog where he will document his experiences and feedback about contestant submissions.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions and 3D Printing

Today's blog is from Scott Harmon.
Generally, you can count me among the cynics who think that picking New Year’s as an arbitrary time to make commitments about the future is a bit like believing in the Easter Bunny. We should always be thinking about the future and what we can make do to make better. On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to waste an opportunity. So here are some resolutions, hopefully for all of us in the design and engineering world, for 2012.

Make a difference in the life of a kid. I find that the most gratifying part of our business is the usage of 3D printers in middle schools and high schools. This article from a newspaper in Tennessee sums it up better than I can. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that 3D printers (in the hands of passionate skillful teachers) can change kids’ lives. I’m definitely not suggesting that learning to operate a printer will change anyone’s life. However, using a 3D printer teaches kids important lessons about creativity, engineering thinking, success and failure. In a world that has gone a little crazy with standardized tests and being right all the time, 3D printers (as an extension of design and engineering) teach lessons about creativity, messiness, curiosity, perseverance, failure, and discovery - things that really matter in the long term. So my first resolution is that we will continue to support efforts, like EngineeringZONE to expose kids to the wonder of being able create.

Produce More, Consume Less. Do you know anyone named Mason? Or Cobler? Or Smith? Or Farmer? Or Baker? Do you see what I’m getting at? Generations ago, we were literally defined by what we made. People succeeded or failed on the merits of the products they could produce, and their ability to produce those products effectively. Today, we seem to be much more likely to be defined by what we consume, than by what we produce. I’m definitely not advocating a return to pre-Industrial Age societal structure. However, I am hopeful that with the huge advance in design and fabrication technology at our fingertips, we might swing things back the other way. That we might use our innate creativity to Create more frequently, to design and make instead of just consume. We have the tools. I hope we still have the desire and ability.

Finally, I’d like to present my nomination for most creative use of a 3D printer in 2011. As far as I know this is the first ever marriage proposal using a 3D print. Our friends at My Robot Nation have the full story. What a great way to bring an eventful 2011 to a close, and kick off a great 2012.

Best wishes to you and yours for a happy and prosperous 2012.